Culture on display

Ryan Cooke
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Millbrook First Nation celebrates National Aboriginal Day

MILLBROOK – People gathered around the centre of the floor as thundering drumbeats thumped in the chests of spectators.


The tune was a “sneak-up” – an aboriginal warrior song. Starting out quiet, the drums slowly rise, getting louder. The man in the middle of the floor, the warrior, snakes around slowly at first. As the drum grows, his movements become more sporadic.

The 10 drummers suddenly begin beating the drum individually, out of time. The pitter-patter cracks give the feeling of gunfire, with the constant flash of cameras like muzzle flashes.

The dancer’s movements become much quicker now, lunging to the floor and stomping his hands and feet – the yellow, black and red of his attire rustling.

When the music stops, the crowd erupts into applause while the performer, Bert One-Breath Milberg, heads outside, emotional and exhausted.

“It’s hard not to feel the drum, especially when you have such a great drum group,” he said.

Since he was a little boy, dancing in front of a bathroom mirror, traditional dance has had a special meaning for Milberg.

“It’s about the promoting of our culture – the healthy part of our culture. It takes away some stereotypes. It gives me my pride.”

Milberg was one of many dancers displaying their skill at the Glooscap Heritage Centre on Saturday afternoon. Playing host to National Aboriginal Day, the centre drew in hundreds of visitors throughout the day.

There were visitors like Milberg, First Nations people who came from away; plenty of Millbrook residents, and also visitors like Karen Sklapsky – people without aboriginal heritage who wanted to get a glimpse of First Nations customs.

“I’ve never seen it before, and I wanted to get some idea of the aboriginal culture,” Sklapsky said.

Karen and her husband, Vern, travelled to Millbrook from St. Margaret’s Bay to take in the festivities. They sat front row for most of the afternoon, watching the performances and shooting video on an iPad.

“The dancing here has been amazing, and the costumes are just fantastic,” she said. “They’ve done a fabulous job sharing the stories behind the dances, and the meanings, which is really what I came for.”

Following the displays of traditional and contemporary dancing, the crowd watched as three young men took part in a hand drum contest. The Sklapskys were on the edge of their seats, along with the rest of the audience, as Michael R. Denny wowed the crowd with his modern twist on traditional music. Denny’s vibrato rang through the hall as he sang of lost love and heartbreak while keeping the beat on a drum.

“We used to sing traditional songs as young fellows, but I really got serious in about 2002. A lot of my elders and friends are singers.”

“Being able to express myself in songs and sing, it just keeps me going. I love it.”

Giving people a chance to express their culture is a key part of National Aboriginal Day, said Millbrook Chief Bob Gloade.

“The importance of a day like today is for aboriginal people to showcase their culture – the music, the dance and the sharing of stories. It’s an opportunity for us to engage with the rest of Canada about what it means to be Mi’kmaq.”


Organizations: First Nations, Glooscap Heritage Centre

Geographic location: Millbrook, Canada

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