The indigenous people of Canada are referred to as First Nation. As with all lands that were conquered by colonizing Europeans, the native populations were moved to selected areas and denied the opportunity to share their culture with their children. For over a century, Canada would not allow First Nation people to play a drum. Things are improving.
The Last Dance crew encountered a group of First Nation people, paddling across Ontario on a Voyager canoe. This group was from the Metis Nation, descendants of the indigenous people and French fur trappers. They were celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Canada nation by following the trade routes of their ancestors.
They came ashore from the Lake Superior side, climbing up the vertical rock face of Otter Island by the lighthouse. Conversations were struck up with descriptions of the long, long journey by canoe and the significance of the journey to their heritage. Their path on Lake Superior was along the eastern and northern shores, like Last Dance, but much closer to shore for protection. And, they paddle every day, regardless of weather. As they came through Old Dave's Harbor, they raised their paddles in salute to the Last Dance crew.
They began with twelve paddlers, but the harsh environment and physical stress had reduced their number. The Metis Nation flag was flying proudly at their stern.
A 2500 kilometer journey in under 3 months is a large undertaking by a group of young people. The determination, persistence, and stamina required to complete the trip is at an amazingly high level. It was a moving experience to meet these young men and women.
At Hattie's Cove, there was a Fire Social. The Pukaskwa National Park is entirely on First Nation property. The park has many First Nation people on staff and has developed programs sharing the First Nation culture. It is tradition to socialize around a fire, and a native tea is brewing in the pot.
Important symbols and their origin were shared along with practices that have been developed to show respect for the bounties of nature and other people.
The Last Dance crew was fortunate to have additional instruction into the cultural practices as one of the Metis Nation paddlers was sitting at our side. The paddlers had passed Last Dance, spending the night farther along the coast in Marathon. They were given a ride back to the park so they could participate in the Fire Social. At the end of the ceremony, a spirit could be felt. It was uplifting, sensual, and peaceful.
The First Nation people can again play the drum. The youth are working hard to learn the culture and the songs from the elders so that they are not lost. Drum songs were sung and meanings explained, enjoyed by all at the Fire Social.