Celebrating “one heart, one mind”

Performers dance during NIPD celebrations at Royal Roads

Thousands gathered at Royal Roads University June 21 to celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day on the traditional lands of the Lekwungen-speaking Peoples, the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations.

Co-hosted by 19 regional partners, the annual event, attracting approximately 6,000 people, offered a vibrant showcase of Indigenous cultural heritage, including music, food, activities, and opportunities for connection.

The celebration began with a performance by the lək̓ʷəŋən Traditional Dancers, who sang and danced as canoe families floated in the sparkling waters, awaiting their turn to come ashore for a traditional canoe protocol practice. 


Led by Songhees Nation Elder Butch Dick the canoe protocol practice is a symbol of reconciliation.

“The waterways, the ocean, rivers – they’re our traditional highways,” said Esquimalt Nation Chief Edward Thomas, speaking about their importance for connecting with neighboring coastal communities. When visiting canoe families would land, it was customary to request permission to come ashore.

Thomas said the event is about coming together with “one heart and one mind.”

“We celebrate ourselves and we celebrate unity,” he said. “Events like this are a great opportunity and a great way for us to learn our neighbours and teach our younger generation that it’s okay to reach out, it’s okay to be respectful to one another, and to learn from each other so we can build one big happy community.”


Nearly 3,000 students from School Districts 61, 62, 63, 93 and W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership Secondary School took part in the event, enjoying tasting fry bread, making crafts or participating in field games.

It’s a hands-on learning opportunity that compliments the Indigenous education they receive in the classroom, said Katie Gaetz, Na'tsa'maht Indigenous curriculum coordinator for the Sooke School District.


“This is a perfect book end to all of the teaching’s they’ve been learning this year,” Gaetz said.

“We’ve got the future of tomorrow in these kids and with that, these kids are learning now the importance of inclusion and respect. They are getting that now at a young age and that brings a better and safer community for all in the future.”

There were a range of activities, from face painting to story time with Elders. Colourful and lively entertainment delighted crowds, including performances by the Joyful Jiggers, Ribbon Skirt Dancers, the Esquimalt Singers and Dancers and more.

Sixteen partner teams competed in the The Swutth’tus (Max Henry Sr.) Canoe Challenge, which is a race to the shore while navigating tight turns along the course. The West Shore RCMP team took home fist place in the large canoe category while the Ocean Spirit Canoe Family won first place in the small canoe category.

Cowichan Nation Elder Kenneth Elliott led dozens on a traditional plant walk on Charlie’s Trail along Colwood Creek. 

“Everything in the forest belongs to either the food category, tool category or medicine category,” he explained. “The ancestors, knowing this, held the forest in high regard.”

Kenneth Elliot

Elliot points out a red osier dogwood tree growing on the banks of the creek. The leaves of the slender tree shade the creek, cooling the water in the salmon-bearing stream, he explains.

“The warmer the water, the lower the oxygen,” he said. “This shade is critically important for the salmon fry.”

The Capitol Regional District offered a potlatch pouch-making activity. Participants crafted small red felt pouches, adorned with a canoe and eagle feather.


“The pouch is a symbol of giving,” said Leslie McGarry, CRD Regional Parks cultural programmer, adding that the canoe is a nod to the events of the day and the feather symbolizes leadership and knowledge.

The idea is the students make the pouches with someone special in mind to gift them to.

“We teach our children to fill their baskets and share their baskets, not stack them up behind them,” she said.