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Home Story Indigenous Peoples Day across the NWT

Celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day

June 21 marks National Indigenous Peoples Day in Canada, which coincides with the summer solstice. The summer solstice has traditionally been significant to many Indigenous communities across the Country, who celebrate  their heritage, histories, and traditions through unique and lively festivities on the longest day of the year.

In 1982, the Assembly of First Nations created what was then called National Aboriginal Solidarity Day. By 2001, the Northwest Territories became the first jurisdiction in Canada to formally recognize it as a holiday. 

Throughout the Northwest Territories, this statutory holiday is filled with a wide range of festivities and community events. These beloved celebrations include cultural demonstrations, workshops, art displays, traditional foods, and music to honour the Métis, Inuit, and First Nations peoples who have called the North their home since time immemorial. 

Here are just a few of the ways communities in the Northwest Territories celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day.

Behchokǫ̀

In Behchokǫ̀, the seat of the Tłı̨chǫ Government, the festivities kick off with a sweet and sticky pancake breakfast at the Sportsplex. After an energising start, the Kids Carnival offers face painting, bouncy castles, loonie games and more sweet treats like cotton candy, snowcones, and popcorn! 

Then the celebration continues at the baseball field with a community BBQ and an afternoon of live entertainment. Be sure to participate or cheer on the tug of war, egg toss, three-legged races, duck plucking, and bannock making contest! 

Cultural games play a main role in the festivities in Behchokǫ̀. Particularly the ever-popular Hand Games, a traditional guessing game with roots in hunting. 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 with items like weapons, tools and furs. The day wraps up with a traditional drum dance in the evening. It’s the perfect day to learn, get involved in the community, and support Indigenous artists. Who knows, you may even find the perfect piece of art to take home and cherish.

Fort Simpson

In Fort Simpson, the Łı́ı́dlı̨ı̨ Kų́ę́ First Nation celebrates Indigenous Peoples Day with a spirited and competitive atmosphere. The festivities at the Ehdaa Historical Site begin with an opening prayer to start the day on a good note. Following the prayer, the celebration kicks off with canoe races. 

Canoes hold significant historical importance for Indigenous Peoples across Canada, especially for those living along the ‘Big River’ or Deh Cho, also known as the Mackenzie River. These light and swift birchbark or moosehide canoes were essential for hunting, fishing, trade routes, and other transportation, outperforming European-style wooden boats.

A warm summer barbeque keeps the celebration rolling, alongside open mic performances where local talents take the stage. Families can enjoy family-friendly activities throughout the day. As the festivities draw to a close, a traditional drum dance brings everyone together.

If you are Indigenous, don’t forget to wear your best traditional dress in celebration. There will be a contest to commemorate the cultural threads that shape the beautiful indigenous identity!

Yellowknife

Yellowknifers look forward to the annual Indigenous Peoples Day Fish Fry at Somba K’e Civic Plaza, hosted by the North Slave Métis Alliance and Northwestel. It’s a big celebration in the heart of the city, next to the shores of Frame Lake. 

The fish fry is an anticipated event every year fueled by mouth watering, locally sourced Whitefish with all the trimmings like baked beans, corn on the cob and bannock. This day sees attendance of upwards of 7,000 people! That is a lot of mouths to feed, over 3000 fillets are served.  

In addition to tasting delicious traditional food, the atmosphere is easy on the ears. Métis jiggers, fiddlers, Inuit throat-singers and the Yellowknives Dene Drummers all come together to showcase traditional rhythms, beats, and melodies. 

It’s also a great time to learn more about the rich traditions of the Indigenous Peoples that live in the Region. And who has more fun? Kids or adults? Face painting, puppet shows and games will keep the littles busy on the longest day of the year!

For those wanting to take home some one-of-a-kind Indigenous crafts, local artists offer their beaded jewellery, birchbark baskets, moose-hair tufting, paintings and carvings for purchase.

Hay River

In Hay River, the day celebrates the Woodland Cree, the Sekani, Dane-zaa, Dene Tha’, Dene and Métis cultures. Interactive workshops are held at the Rec Centre, like the fish scale art workshop, always a favourite! There’s also live music and a free barbeque hosted by the Hay River Métis Government Council. At nearby K’atlo’deeche First Nation, people look forward to the thrilling canoe races, axe-throwing contests and, you guessed it, another tasty fish-fry!

Norman Wells

In Norman Wells, Indigenous Peoples Day celebrations extend all weekend long! Fiddle music sets the pace for the weekend providing energetic and melodious tunes from a variety of local musicians. The weekend kicks off on Friday night with a family dance and talent show, setting the stage for the official events.

The notes carry on to Saturday with more jigging! Canoe races are a favourite event of the weekend, which is capped off with a festive feast on Sunday, hosted by the Norman Wells Land Corporation at the community arena. The event brings together visitors and residents to celebrate the culture and heritage of the Dene and Métis of the Sahtu Region.

Délı̨nę

In Délı̨nę, Indigenous Peoples Day begins with a competitive but fun bannock baking contest, offering a scrumptious start to the celebrations. Here on the shores of Great Bear Lake, you can take in a variety of games, events, and prizes. 

The local Cultural Centre hosts children’s events all afternoon featuring face painting, races, and cultural activities. As per tradition, the community BBQ caps off the fun-filled holiday alongside an evening Drum Dance.

Inuvik

Celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day above the Arctic Circle and under the Midnight Sun in beautiful Inuvik! Here, you’ll experience a vibrant blend of Indigenous cultures , showcasing the local Métis, Gwich’in, and Inuvialuit peoples of the North. The Gwich’in Tribal Council, Nihtat Gwich’in Council, Inuvik Native Band, Inuvik Community Corporation, and the Town of Inuvik host a BBQ and fish fry at Chief Jim Koe Park.

Follow your ears to the sound of drumming and laughter! The famous Blanket Toss gets the crowd going! The blanket is traditionally made from sturdy hides stitched together and held by community members who help fling jumpers into the air. 

The aim is to jump higher than the other competitors. While it’s all fun and games on this special day, the Blanket Toss is steeped in the history of the hunt, as hunters could see far and wide with the expansive and flat Tundra terrain, void of any trees or obstructions. They’d toss a member of their hunting party up with a blanket to help them spot herds of caribou and muskoxen in the far distance. 

Wherever you find yourself on National Indigenous Peoples Day, you’ll experience the true spirit of the Spectacular NWT. This vibrant holiday brings every community to life with celebrations that pay homage to the rich cultures and traditions of Indigenous peoples across the Territory. Check in with the local town or band office to learn about the exciting events planned for this year’s celebration. Join in, immerse yourself, and be a part of the fun!

 

 

The Northwest Territories is made spectacular by the thriving cultures, deep histories, and rich traditions of the people who call it home. Every community across the NWT has its own distinct history of storytelling, which is often translated through various art forms. Read more to learn what makes each practice unique and where you can find authentic Indigenous art from artists across the territory.

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