New Summer Solstice festival debuts at Wiiky in June 2020

Indigenous Tourism Ontario

Major new event will rotate through the North

OTTAWA – Hockey fans watching Saturday’s Ottawa Senators versus Columbus Blue Jackets matinee game on Saturday, December 14 might have noted some familiar faces in the crowd, and on the ice. One hundred people from Wiiwkemkoong and the United Chiefs and Councils of Mnidoo Mnising communities attended the Indigenous Culture Celebration Game, promoted as ‘an afternoon dedicated to truth and reconciliation.’ The game also allowed the title sponsor, Indigenous Tourism Ontario (ITO) to share the exciting news about a new event coming to Manitoulin in June to mark the summer solstice.

ITO president and chief executive officer Kevin Eshkawkogan told The Expositor that the Summer Solstice event will be loosely modelled after the successful Ottawa Summer Solstice Indigenous Festival and Powwow, which has been taking place for over 20 years.

“We’ve decided to replicate it in Northern Ontario,” Mr. Eshkawkogan said. Manitoulin Island will be home to the inaugural Northern Ontario Summer Solstice—June 18-June 21, 2020—with plans to make it a travelling festival with locations across the North in the years to come.

The festival will kick off on the Thursday with plans to provide special workshops at Island schools that would discuss what, traditionally, would be going on at that time in the Anishinaabe calendar. Berry harvesting or the lunar calendar, for instance, Mr. Eshkawkogan explained.

“The students would learn more about the Indigenous culture at a different time of the year,” he added, pointing to the successful Fall Harvest festival held in M’Chigeeng each fall.

Friday will feature more education sessions, this time with a focus on tourism for industry providers. Topics will include standardization, funding opportunities and helping travel/trade partners serve the needs of the international marketplace. Mr. Eshkawkogan pointed to acclaimed Indigenous speaker Clarence Louie, chief of the Osoyoos First Nation in British Columbia who spoke at the grand opening of the Manitoulin Hotel and Conference Centre (the realization of which involved Mr. Eshkawkogan for several years). The Osoyoos people also boast a hotel.

“He basically told us ‘welcome to the family, now don’t screw it up’,” Mr. Eshkawkogan said he always remembers Chief Louie saying at the opening event.

“We want to try and combat any negative experiences and go above and beyond,” he continued. We want to help businesses attain their full potential.”

Friday evening and the following day, Saturday, June 20, mark days of food. According to Mr. Eshkawkogan, most international travellers say they want to have an Indigenous experience while travelling to Canada. What better way to experience a culture than through its food? ITO will be working with Indigenous Culinary of Association Nations (ICAN) to host a ‘Taste of a Nation Event.’

This first Summer Solstice festival will be held in Wiikwemkoong, which also has its traditional powwow on that weekend which will figure into the special events. This year’s powwow will be put on by the satellite community of Murray Hill and be hosted at Thunderbird Park.

“ICAN takes an historical approach to the traditional boundaries, not recognizing the provincial and territorial boundaries,” he explained. “They will showcase foods from various nations on the Friday night. The next day will be a culinary contest day with vendors.” Mr. Eshkawkogan said he hopes to have three levels of competitions: master chef, open and youth. The winners will be announced that evening which will also feature on-stage musical performances and, hopefully, a performance from Debajehmujig Storytellers too. All of this will be in the lead-up to Sunday, June 21, the summer solstice and National Indigenous Peoples Day.

“We plan to collaborate with as many groups as possible,” Mr. Eshkawkogan continued.

Mr. Eshkawkogan said he hopes the inaugural event will bring in as many as 15,000 to 20,000 people over the four days.

“We want everyone to be involved,” he reiterated, “First Nations and non-First Nations alike. Let’s be good neighbours and learn about each a little bit more. Let’s do this together.”