Friday is National Indigenous People’s Day, and this year it also serves as the kick off for the 2019 Indigenous Cultural Festival in Victoria.
The three-day festival, now in its sixth year, is a glimpse into the rich and colourful Indigenous world through the work of artists, music, dance and food.
“It’s a chance to show off our cultural pride and it shows unity — we have all come together as one with the other nations,” said Songhees First Nation liaison Florence Dick. “It is a gathering for us, a gathering of celebration, of educating and promoting understanding of our people.”
The festival is hosted by the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations and is free to the public.
There are three days filled with performances by local and international Indigenous artists at the Royal B.C. Museum outdoor plaza, an artists’ market filled with carvers, painters and jewellers and plenty of Indigenous food to sample.
It all kicks off with a welcome ceremony on Friday morning at 10:30 a.m.
Linda Calla, special project coordinator at Indigenous Tourism B.C., said they expect as many as 30,000 people through the gates over the weekend, and there is something for everyone.
“This is an awareness piece, and a great educational tool for people in Victoria and visitors to get an understanding of our culture and to see it’s still very much alive and thriving,” she said.
Calla noted the festival also plays a big role in the development of Indigenous youth.
“It is not just about exposing people to the west coast Indigenous culture, it does instill pride in our young people,” she said. “When I was a kid, and I’m 66 now, quite often we didn’t have a real opportunity to learn about our cultures. We were not encouraged to learn and there was no opportunity to learn about it in school.
“This is a way young people can learn their culture. They can share it and have pride in it.”
Dick said the festival can be a door to opportunity for youth, a chance to see the connections being made around the region by First Nations and the opportunities that result.
And while she said this kind of event can start to break down barriers there is a still a way to go, and she is hoping to see more municipalities get involved and perhaps eventually have events staged around the region.
Calla said events like this really help the growing Indigenous tourism industry, which now boast about 400 companies around the province.
“It’s become a very important economic opportunity,” she said, noting many Indigenous communities have felt the sting of downturns in resource-based industries. “And it’s also a means of keeping the history, the stories and the culture alive in those communities.”
She believes there is a strong appetite for Indigenous tourism from the travelling public.
“Some people think it takes a back seat to mainstream tourism but that’s not the case. We know it’s in the forefront and as many as three in four individual travellers coming to B.C. are looking for an Indigenous experience,” she said.
Festivities run between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday on the grounds of the Royal B.C. Museum.
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