MILLBROOK - Little Thunder Bear Sylliboy clung close to his mom Josee, his eyes and ears taking in all the colours and sounds of the dancers around him.
The two-year-old was getting an education in his heritage during the annual National Aboriginal Day festivities at the Glooscap Heritage Centre in Millbrook on Thursday afternoon. An estimated 300 people attended the event and Josee said it was an ideal way to celebrate the special day.
"National Aboriginal Day couldn't be any more significant than what is happening here," she said as young and old danced in a circle to the beat of drums.
"I am one of the very few people who live a traditional native way of life," she said, adding it's important to remember the "blood, sweat and tears" of Mi'kmaq descendants.
The event was also relevant as a way to dispel some misconceptions about aboriginals, said Josee.
"I find that if you don't live on a reserve, you think, ‘they have so much money' and focus on the financial battles and forget the native way of life" such as dancing as prayer and appreciating the Earth, to name a few traditions.
For Millbrook's Marissa Bernard, 17, Aboriginal Day was a unique way to express herself.
"I like learning about my culture and who I am as a young Mi'kmaw person. And we, the young, are the future and I can help teach the younger generation about who we are," said Marissa, who was dressed in traditional native clothing. "Today means a lot because we are ... trying to bring the culture to its original strength."
The teenager said her favourite part of the day was dancing to the drums and seeing others, especially different cultures coming together.
"There's a lot of interaction with other cultures and I'm so proud that a lot of non-aboriginals are here."
Joe Sylliboy, head event co-ordinator, was thrilled with the large attendance and how it helped bridge the gap between cultures.
"It's a rare event that's not a powwow and showcases First Nations culture," he said.
"It's good to have people come who maybe would not have come 10 years ago. People and times are changing and a lot more younger (people) are more open-minded."
He was also pleased to hear people say they "didn't know how intricate the clothes were and how much work goes into drumming. They appreciated it more."
The day also included children's activities, drumming, dancing, displays inside the heritage centre and a barbecue.
What: National Aboriginal Day recognizes and celebrates the cultures and contributions of the First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples of Canada.
First celebrated: In 1996 after it was proclaimed that it would be celebrated on June 21 annually.
It's also part of: Celebrate Canada Days
Activities include: Summer solstice festivals, barbecues, social networking, music, dancing, sacred fire extinguishing ceremonies, traditional feasts and