Celebrating the Solstice


The Ottawa Summer Solstice Aboriginal Festival has blossomed into a bustling three-day multi-arts festival where families can eat, play, dance and learn about Aboriginal culture, writes Sonia Mendes.


From competitive pow wow and hoop dancing to bubble soccer and a colour run, the Ottawa Summer Solstice Aboriginal Festival will offer up a jampacked, three-day schedule from June 19-21.

comm-prof-1-jj15“We try to do new and unique activities every year and we’ve certainly added to our offerings this summer,” says Trina Mather-Simard, the festival’s executive director.

What began 19 years ago as a simple, one-day celebration of National Aboriginal Day (June 21) has blossomed into a three-day multi-arts festival at Vincent Massey Park. Hosted this year by the Assembly of First Nations, the Ottawa Summer Solstice Aboriginal Festival (ottawasummersolstice.ca) welcomes people from every background to join in on the fun.

“It’s a great opportunity to connect with artists in the community and learn about Aboriginal culture,” says Mather-Simard, adding festivalgoers don’t need to have a knowledge of pow wow protocol to attend. “We try to make it a really open and welcoming environment, where everyone feels comfortable.

“It’s a balance of traditional activities and urban-contemporary activities – a chance to let the kids and families play together.”

Kids and adults can take part in interactive arts and crafts workshops, including demonstrations on how to make corn husk dolls and cradleboards – the traditional, protective baby carriers used by many indigenous cultures.

If crafts aren’t up your alley, get busy at the family fun and sports zone, which has expanded to include a wide range of activities. Try your hand at precision hockey, bungee trampoline and bubble soccer, where players take to the field in huge, inflatable bubbles.

This year, a hoop dance competition has been added to the festival roster for the first time. A form of storytelling dance, hoop dancing is generally performed by a solo dancer who incorporates hoops as props.

“It’s a very athletic style of dance,” explains Mather- Simard. “The dancers use up to 30 hoops at a time, and they create things they see in nature and tell a story through the hoops.”

Some of the genre’s top talent will be on display at the festival, with world champion hoop dancer Tony Duncan slated to perform.

A talented player of the Apache cane flute, Duncan has toured with acclaimed Native American artists such as R. Carlos Nakai and Joanne Shenandoah, as well as international pop star Nelly Furtado. Duncan, who hails from Arizona, was the featured dancer in Furtado’s music video, Big Hoops.comm-prof-2-jj15

Other popular Aboriginal performing artists – such as contemporary dance theatre troupe Kaha:Wi, DJ Shub and hypnotist Scott Ward – are also part of the festival’s diverse line-up.

While admission to the festival and family programming is free, there is a registration fee for attendees who choose to participate in the Summer Solstice Colour Run on Saturday, June 20 (ottawasolsticecolourrun.com).

In addition to the adult 2.5K and adult 5K runs, a familyfriendly 1K run – where runners don white T-shirts and run through “colour bombs” during the course – is themed after the Medicine Wheel.

A system of knowledge practised by most Anishnaabe people, the Medicine Wheel is based on four colours: white, yellow, red and black. Among the oldest teachings, the Medicine Wheel represents the interconnectedness of the physical, mental, spiritual and emotional; when you achieve balance among these, it is believed you will be living the good life, or Mino-Bimadsawin.

Those with a sense of culinary adventure can round out their festival experience by trying a new food. Mather-Simard says Aboriginal food vendors will be offering up buffalo burgers, Indian tacos and grilled pickerel. Be sure to say “meegwetch” for your meal – it’s the Algonquin word for “thanks.” article-end-jj15-30px

Photo: Clear Skies Photography
Photos: Courtesy of Ottawa Summer Solstice Aboriginal Festival