and more than 500 people from all over Cape Breton gathered on the longest day of the year at the Membertou Trade and Convention Centre where they dined on their choice of free lobster or turkey dinners as a live-stream of the APTN's Aboriginal Day concert was broadcast on several large screens in the background.
But for Jeff Ward the highlight came he learned this would be the last National Aboriginal Day. Well in name— not spirit. Earlier in the day Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the federal government will rename the day National Indigenous Peoples Day.
“There is a big difference,” said Ward, who is general manager of Membertou Heritage Park. “For one thing, the term aboriginal was passed upon by the last federal government. Indigenous is what we are — we are indigenous tot his land., we come from this land — where the word aboriginal talks about something different. Once you look at the meaning of words, it’s so important. Even the word Mi’kmaq; Mi’kmaq means kinship, family, but we often use the word I’nu. I’nu: ‘we are human.’ It’s very important that we know that.”
The importance of words has always been important to Ward, who remembers Cape Breton as a far less accepting place for Mi’kmaq people, even when he attended high school in the early 1990s
“I remember — it wasn’t cool to be an Indian. My uncles had long hair and braids and people would laugh and mock them,” he said. “We were called many different words.”
Much has changed over the years, however, and with the trade convention centre, heritage centre and the new state-of-the-art hockey rink, Membertou draws more people from outside the community than ever before. Ward said interest in his language and culture seems to be constantly growing.
“A couple things: the Internet allows so much information to flow. As well, policies and laws have change. In 1960, we weren’t allowed to vote. In 1960 it was against the law for us to do ceremonies. Therefore, today’s society we all look at one another, we all want to learn about one another, so here’s a greater acceptance, and we tend to want to learn about one another, which is very important,” he said, noting the diverse crowd of people sharing a meal together. “The great thing about today is that we are sharing, we’re learning. You can see all nations are here, all the different races, all the colour of people are here — the reds, the whites, the blacks and the yellows — we’re all here. It’s an amazing time that we can come together, we can feast together and today is our day to share but also to learn too.”