Assembly of First Nations Vice-Chief Morley Googoo said he got the idea to hold a celebration gathering for both Mi’kmaw and Acadian people during a walk through Grand Pré National Historic Site at Grand Pré, N.S. two years ago.
“I saw a Mi’kmaw flag here in the middle of nowhere,” Googoo, who represents Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador at the AFN, recalled.
“I looked at the field and thought it would be cool if a powwow happened there,” he said.
On Thursday evening, Googoo’s vision became a reality as hundreds of people gathered at the historic site in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley to take part in the opening ceremony to kick off Grand Pré 2017 – A Celebration of Peace and Friendship.
The celebration began with the grand entry of Mi’kmaw leaders, veterans, drummers and dancers. They were followed by Acadian dancers and performers carrying large paper mache heads.
“I was really touched,” Marie-Claude Rioux, who serves as co-chair of Grand Pré 2017 with Googoo, said following the ceremony.
“I was really emotional because I was thinking as an Acadian, I was walking through the teepees, you know, and I was thinking well that’s probably how our ancestors felt when they first met the Mi’kmaw people,” Rioux, Directrice-générale with the Fédération Acadienne de la Novelle-Écosse, explained.
“It touched me very deeply. It’s very emotional. It’s very significant,” she added.
Following the opening ceremony, the evening entertainment began with Metis country/folk singer and Juno nominee Don Amero from Winnipeg, Man., performing onstage followed by iconic Acadian singer Edith Butler.
The evening ended with a fireworks display just behind the stage.
Powwow planned for Saturday
Other musical acts scheduled to perform this weekend include East Coast Music Awards winners City Natives, Ronald Bourgeois and Vishten.
Throughout the weekend, visitors can watch demonstrations of Mi’kmaw activities such as waltes, basketmaking and wigwam construction at the cultural village set up at the Grand Pré site. There were also be storytelling and songs taking place at the Acadian tent.
Powwow dancing and drumming is scheduled for Saturday afternoon.
Googoo said he was able to raise $1.5-million to pay for the event. Both the federal and Nova Scotia governments as well as private partners contributed funding for the weekend celebration.
The AFN regional vice-chief hopes the Grand Pré gathering demonstrates to people what reconciliation looks like between two groups of people.
“I want people to share stories, people to create bonds, people to know who we are as Mi’kmaq,” Googoo said.
For Rioux, she said the weekend celebration is a way for Acadians to show gratitude to Mi’kmaw people who helped her ancestors survive before and after the Acadian expulsion in 1755.
“We know that the Mi’kmaq helped us survive through famine, through the hard winters. We traded. They showed us fishing techniques, hunting techniques, food,” Rioux explained.
“And of course, there was a mingling of the two peoples. There are lots of Acadians that have ancestors that were Mi’kmaw,” she said.
“I think if we come out of this event more united with a feeling that if I want to call you for support, you’re going to help me and if you call me for support, I will be there for you,” Rioux explained.
“I would like to see way more, a partnership between the Acadian people and the Mi’kmaq,” she said.