By Sam Laskaris
ST. CATHARINES – Organizers of the Celebration of Nations Indigenous Arts Gathering are thrilled they will once again be able to offer in-person programming.
This year marks the sixth year that the three-day event, which includes Indigenous music, dance, film and traditional arts as well as speakers and workshops, has been staged in St. Catharines.
This year’s gathering begins on Friday, Sept. 9 and continues until Sept. 11.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, both the 2020 and 2021 gatherings were held online only.
Tim Johnson, the artistic producer of the event, is thrilled that this year’s events will include in-person offerings.
“Everything is fully open with our public events this year,” he said.
Johnson added because of the tremendous success of the past two years with online programming, the events will also continue to be available remotely.
“We had a huge attendance figure when we streamed things online,” he said.
While the gathering had attracted several thousand people in each of its first four years, the event’s popularity skyrocketed in 2020 when programming was offered online for the first time.
“We had 36,000 people watching over the course of the weekend that year,” Johnson said.
Johnson added gathering attendees for the events’ early years for the most part lived within a 100-kilometre radius of St. Catharines. It was not uncommon for residents of Toronto, Buffalo and Rochester to flock to the gathering.
That changed the last two years with online programming.
“There were people from all over the country and different countries watching,” Johnson said.
The theme of this year’s gathering is Honouring Our Matriarchs: Restoring The Balance.
The event annually honours and celebrates the achievements, culture, and heritage of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples.
In-person events will be held at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre (PAC) in St. Catharines.
“We are thrilled for the opportunity to gather again as a community at the PAC to share an exceptional program of Indigenous artists and Knowledge Keepers,” said Michele-Elise Burnett, the artistic director of the gathering. “Year six offers an opportunity to raise up the voices of our Indigenous matriarchs, to heed their wisdom, and to restore balance to the world again.”
This week’s gathering includes more than 40 in-person events. Many of those will also have virtual options.
While some events require a ticket to attend, others are free or offer a pay-what-you-can option.
All programming details for the gathering are available at www.celebrationofnations.ca
A highlight will undoubtedly be a performance by Indigenous icon Buffy Sainte-Marie on Saturday. Six Nations member Shawnee Kish will also perform on the same bill as Sainte-Marie.
“Buffy was the headline music act during our first year,” Johnson said. “She very graciously agreed to come back this year.”
Sainte-Marie, who is 81 and now lives in Hawaii, is also travelling to Ontario for the world premiere of her documentary, Buffy Sainte-Marie: Carry It On. The film is playing at the Toronto International Film Festival, which runs Sept. 8-18.
The gathering also includes a First Ladies of Jazz concert, produced in partnership with the TD Niagara Jazz Festival, on Friday’s opening night.
This concert will honour the works of Mildred Bailey, Billie Holiday, and Ella Fitzgerald.
The gathering will also include various hands-on workshops, storytelling and poetry, and discussion sessions. There will also be dance, music, and drumming demonstrations.
The event will conclude with Drums Across Canada, which will be both live and livestreamed, and featuring Indigenous drumming groups from eights venues across the country.