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Indigenous Peoples Day across the NWT

young Dene drummers in Wekweeti

Celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day

National Indigenous Peoples Day, formerly known as Aboriginal Day, is celebrated every June 21st all across Canada. In the Northwest Territories, it's a statutory holiday. In every community in the territory, you'll find festivities that include cultural demonstrations, live music, artwork and traditional food, all to honour and recognize the Métis, Inuit and First Nations people who've made the North their home for centuries. 

June 21st is also the summer solstice - the longest day of the year and the day many Indigenous groups have traditionally celebrated their heritage. In 1982, what we now refer to as the Assembly of First Nations called for a National Aboriginal Solidarity Day on June 21st and in 2001, the NWT became the first jurisdiction in Canada to make it a formal holiday. 

Here's how to celebrate across the NWT:

Tlicho flag


In Behchoko, the seat of the Tlicho Government, the festivities begin with a parade at the Behchoko Cultural Centre. Keep an eye out to see who's brought the best decorated bike to the parade! Following that, enjoy a community BBQ and take part in or just watch the events for the rest of the afternoon. You'll see wood chopping, tea boiling, cake decorating, bannock and dryfish making and more. These events are followed by a canoe race, then the ever-popular Hand Games, and the day culminates in a Drum Dance at the Cultural Centre. Hand Games are a traditional guessing game with origins in hunting parties. The game involves one team hiding a small object in one of their hands and the other team guessing which hand it is in. Correct guesses earn the team sticks and the team with the most sticks at the end of the game wins. Traditionally, hunting parties would bet items like weapons, tools and furs. 

launching canoe race in Fort Simpson for Aboriginal Day

Fort Simpson

Tap into your competitive spirit in Fort Simpson as the Indigenous Day celebrations kick off with canoe races! Canoes are an important part in the history of Canada's Indigenous Peoples, especially for those peoples along the Big River or Deh Cho. Canoes were crucial for hunting, fishing, trade routes and general transportation. European-style wooden boats were no match for the light and swift birchbark or moose hide canoes of the Dene. From there move on to Seven Spruce Golf Course for the Dehcho Open Golf Tournament. Enjoy more Indigenous Peoples Day events by joining the community at the sacred gathering site, Edhaa National Historic Site with its world-record wooden teepee and learn more about the heritage and culture of the Dehcho Dene. 

a crowd watches a musician play in Sombe K'e park in Yellowknife


Yellowknifers look forward to the annual Indigenous Peoples Day Fish Fry at Sombe K'e Civic Plaza, hosted by the North Slave Métis Alliance. In addition to enjoying traditional foods like Whitefish and bannock - a staple for the people here - revelers can look forward to Métis jiggers, fiddlers, Inuit throat singers and the Yellowknives Dene Drummers. For those wanting to take home some incredible Indigenous crafts, local artists will be selling beaded crafts, birchbark baskets, moose hair tufting, paintings and carvings. 

hand games at Katlodeeche First Nation in Hay River

Hay River

In Hay River, take part in a celebration of South Slave Dene culture and learn about their role in the history of the Hub of the North. Enjoy a fish-fry, live music and other cultural events and demonstrations. At Katlodeeche First Nation, watch the canoe races, axe-throwing contest and enjoy, you guessed it, a fish fry. 

aerial view of Norman Wells

Norman Wells

In Norman Wells, you'll find Indigenous Peoples Day celebrations starting on Friday, June 21 and going on all weekend! Iconic Northern fiddler Lee Mandeville will entertain the crowds after a family dance and talent show, and then on Saturday, take part in the canoe races, dance the night away with more fiddling and jigging, and cap off the long weekend with a feast on Sunday in the community arena after an incredible weekend celebrating the culture and heritage of the Dene and Métis of the Sahtu region. 

Drum dance in Deline


In Deline, cook up a batch of your best bannock and enter the contest to see whose bannock reigns supreme in the Sahtu. Head over to the Cultural Centre where there are great kids events happening all afternoon -- face painting, 3-legged race, log-carrying races and a relay. 

The fun starts at 12pm and lasts all evening with a variety of games, events and prizes! Fuel up at the community BBQ and cap off a fun-filled evening with a Drum Dance. 

Inuvialuit man taking part in Blanket Toss in Inuvik


Celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day under the Midnight Sun in Inuvik! Here you'll find events and activities that honour the culture and heritage of the local Métis, Gwich'in and Inuvialuit people of the North. Events include drumming and dancing, traditional foods and lots of activities. One highlight is of course the Blanket Toss. The blanket is traditionally made from sturdy hides stiched together and the aim is to jump higher than the other competitors. While it's all fun and games these days, the Blanket Toss has its origin in hunting parties. With wide, flat Tundra terrain, hunters could see far and wide without any forests hindering their view. They'd toss a member of their hunting party up with the blanket so that they could spot herds of caribou or muskoxen in the distance. 

Inuvialuit dancers in Paulatuk


Paulatuk was named for the coal found in the area in the 1920s, but don't let the name fool you. While Paulatuk is located close to the famous Smoking Hills, the Inuvialuit there enjoy rolling green hills on which to perform their traditional drumming and dancing. 

No matter what community you find yourself in on June 21, it's sure to have some cultural celebrations going on. Inquire at the town or band office to learn how to best enjoy the events of National Indigenous Peoples Day.

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