Third annual Fergus Aboriginal Heritage Festival

By: Cora Bunn, President of the MNO Grand River Métis Council

fergus heritage festival booth
The MNO Grand River Métis Council booth at the Fergus Aboriginal Heritage Festival.

The third annual Aboriginal Heritage Festival in Fergus was held April 19-20, at the Wellington County Museum and Archives.  The Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) Grand River Métis Council again played a prominent role in the event, with two council members on the organizing committee and a number of Métis workshops.

The MNO Grand River Métis Council’s display table was a very popular destination for many attendants due to the display of the furs and traps. Visitors loved trying on raccoon and skunk skin hats and having their picture taken with them on. The Council explained smudging, hand drums, medicine pouches and the significance of the historical relationship the Métis had with the Hudson Bay Company. The Métis flag was proudly displayed both days.

During the festival, an “Education Day” was held for students. Schools came from as far as Aurora (north of Toronto) to experience the workshops featuring facilitators from each of the three Aboriginal peoples.

Métis storyteller Virginia Barter had a colourful display of posters, maps, books, beading, a capote coat, and beaver pelts.  Everyone enjoyed her interactive, enthusiastic workshops. Students jigging with Barter were included in CTV’s news coverage of the festival.

Rajan Anderson
Rajan Anderson playing traditional Métis fiddle music
while jigging.

Attendees were able to enjoy traditional Métis fiddle music performed by Rajan Anderson and his mother, Dr. Kim Anderson. The two also lead a workshop, alongside Barter, on fiddling, jigging and spoons.

Rajan’s fiddling and jigging at the same time was amazing to watch. Many people were happy to dance to the spoons fiddle and keyboard tunes.  Leon Fleury from the MNO Hamilton-Wentworth Métis Council danced to most of the pieces performed and invited many to join him dancing.

MNO Grand River Métis Council President Cora Bunn hosted a wrap-up dinner for the presenters.  The dinner was a nice way to relax and visit with Inuit and First Nations friends.

New this year was the presentation of two awards. The Aboriginal Heritage Youth Award winner was Shannen Koostachin (posthumous), received by her sister Serena Koostachin.  The movie Shannen’s Dream tells of her advocating for “safe and comfy” schools on reserves.  In addition to the Youth Award, the MNO Grand River Métis Council presented her with a Métis sash.

The second award, the Aboriginal Heritage Award, was presented to Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence who was the keynote speaker.  Chief Spence’s attendance at the two-day festival significantly raised the profile of the event, including major media presence.  CTV conducted an interview with the MNO Grand River Métis Council’s banner as the backdrop.

The festival was open to the public and there was great support from the community.  In total, 687 people attended the event.  Admission was by donation, with the proceeds of $1155.00 being donated to Southern Ontario Aboriginal Diabetes Initiative (SOADI).

Senator Carol Levis was asked to offer a prayer at the opening of Saturday’s ceremonies, which included a big drum, hand drumming by the Good Hearted Singers, Inuit drumming, and dancers.

Participation in the festival was a great opportunity for the MNO to raise the profile of the Métis in the community and to share music, history and culture with the people of Wellington County.  The MNO looks forward to many more years of this important Aboriginal festival.

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