Celebration of Nations is part of a long-term vision of the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre, Kakekalanicks, Landscape of Nations 360º and the City of St. Catharines to build on the Two Row Wampum that promotes all Nations walking together, in parallel, with respect, compassion and understanding to cultivate an inclusive community for our shared future.

Part of our year-round programming, Celebration of Nations reaches a crescendo on the weekend after Labour Day annually with a three-day Gathering of Indigenous Arts, Culture, and Tradition that will showcase a wide variety of Indigenous arts and artists, ranging from traditional and contemporary music and dance, visual arts to film screenings, creative workshops, eye-opening teachings, and hands-on activities for both children and adults.

Celebration of Nations has been curated and juried by Artistic Director Michele-Elise Burnett (Métis) and Artistic Producer Tim Johnson (Mohawk), with support of the Celebration of Nations Advisory Committee and Performing Arts Centre programming staff.

The great Métis leader Louis Riel once said, “My people will sleep for one hundred years, but when they awake, it will be the artists who give them their spirit back.” Through the Celebrations of Nations programming delivered at this new state-of-the-art venue, that vision comes true.


Michele-Elise Burnett

Artistic Director

Michele-Elise Burnett, a proud Métis with Algonquin roots from Kitigan Zibi Bear Clan, is President of Kakekalanicks (family name meaning Forever Always), an Indigenous arts and consultancy company which helps promote Indigenous art and artists to a broad audience. The company was developed to embrace and honour the unique heritage, diverse cultures, and outstanding achievements of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples within Canada through the medium of the arts. Ms. Burnett also serves as Vice President of Ignite the Spirit of Education Foundation, Inc. This initiative helps support the awareness, appreciation, and use of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit books in public libraries, on-reserve libraries, and Friendship Centres, and, through a variety of programs, works to bridge the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous learners.

Ms. Burnett recently served as Co-director of Advancement for Landscape of Nations: The Six Nations and Native Allies commemorative Memorial unveiled in Queenston Heights Park on October 2, 2016. Her efforts were instrumental in helping raise $1.4 million toward the design and construction of this living memorial dedicated to the contributions and sacrifices made by Six Nations and Native Allies during the War of 1812. As a compelling destination for visitors from Canada and around the world, the memorial inspires citizens to learn and acknowledge the crucial role Native peoples played in the defense and defining of Canada. Ms. Burnett also served on the Landscape of Nations Inaugural Committee where she provided leadership in the development of meaningful, educational, and entertaining opening ceremonies.

Michele-Elise was raised with an ambition and passion for broadcasting. After graduating from Ryerson University’s esteemed School of Radio and Television Arts, she became a third generation business owner in a Canadian industry pioneered by her father and grandfather. Later, partnering with her mother, she owned and operated the most powerful signal in the Niagara Region, Spirit 91.7 FM Radio, serving Southern Ontario and Western New York. The accomplished mother and daughter team were the first Aboriginal women to be granted a private broadcasting license in Canada.

With 25 years in civic leadership, business development and fundraising, Michele-Elise fuses her business acumen with a personal allegiance to higher education through her Aboriginal network within Canada and the U.S. At her alma mater, Ridley College, she served as a member of the Board of Governors for more than a decade, is a previous Vice President of the Ridley College Fund USA, and created the Women of Ridley Network. In the U.S., Michele-Elise is the previous Chairwoman of Kaleida Health’s Josephine Goodyear Committee, the founder of the “Kick For Life” initiative, and a past Coordinator of Kaleida Health’s “Beautiful Women” Program, all of which raised significant funds for Children’s Hospital of Buffalo. At Brock University, she currently serves on the Boards of Trustees, is the Aboriginal Co-Chair of the Aboriginal Educational Council, and is on the Board of Directors for Weengusk Film Institute. Ms. Burnett stewards the Suzanne Rochon Burnett C.M., Ont. Scholarship that gifts coveted education opportunities to Aboriginal students at Brock University.

Fiercely proud of her heritage, Ms. Burnett has shown that an individual who is inspired can wake up every day and follow and achieve their dreams. A strong proponent of Indigenous aspirations, she fosters a dream to unite, share, and respect each other’s Nations and to build a stronger Indigenous future filled with pride, dignity, and honour that will carry on for seven generations.

Tim Johnson artistic producer celebration of nations

Tim Johnson

Artistic Producer

Tim Johnson, the Artistic Producer of Celebration of Nations, served as Co-chair of Landscape of Nations: The Six Nations & Native Allies Commemorative Memorial, unveiled on October 2, 2016, in Queenston Heights Park, and was the Associate Director for Museum Programs at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian. The Museum Programs Group was the museum’s largest organizational group, structured across two fully programmed facilities in Washington D.C. and New York, encompassing exhibitions, education, interpretive services, publications, film and media production, seminars and symposia, and visual and performing arts programs. During his tenure at the museum, he successfully supervised popular and critically acclaimed exhibits ranging in cost from $15,000 to $5.65 million representing myriad orientations from ethnography and history to contemporary arts. One of his most popular exhibitions, Up Where We Belong: Native Musicians In Popular Culture, was an art and history exhibit as told through the biographies of Native artists whose contributions shaped music soundtracks since the mid 20th Century. This exhibit served as the basis for the Sundance and Hot Docs award-winning documentary Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World, and that has now inspired the live concert performances curated for Celebration of Nations.

Among many highly successful programs, on July 7, 2007, in conjunction with Al Gore’s Live Earth global initiative, he launched the museum’s Mother Earth Festival to diffuse American Indian knowledge and scientific evidence concerning environmental sustainability to thousands in attendance and millions watching around the world. Designed to enhance public education about human-induced climate change, it stands as one of the Smithsonian Institution’s most widely viewed public programs. Now an annual event renamed the Living Earth Festival, it brings together scientists, renewable energy technologists, tribal resource managers, educators, and cultural performers and exhibitors. A leading figure who brought the reality and ramifications of climate change to the forefront in America’s capital, Mr. Johnson also served on the executive committee of the Smithsonian’s “Living in the Anthropocene Initiative” a pan-institutional committee formed to advance public education about climate change and the implications of human conduct on the planet.

Over a period of ten years, Mr. Johnson’s executive leadership at the National Museum of the American Indian produced a long list of critically acclaimed exhibits, influential programs, award-winning books and films, lectures, events, and periodicals, creating an era that significantly advanced the institution’s museology and reputation.

He is the recipient of the Dreamcatcher Foundation Award for Art and Culture for his significant contributions to Native arts, media, and heritage programs over a distinguished career.

Brian Kohn

Brian Kon

Advisory Council Member

Brian Kon is a leader within the Metis Nation and within the local Indigenous Community. He is the Chair of Niagara Region Métis Council. Brian is a council member for the Niagara Indigenous Community Advisory Board (focused on reducing homelessness of Indigenous people) as well as the Indigenous Partnership Council (Indigenous partnership for the 2021 Canada Summer Games). He is an ambassador for the Celebration of Nations, an annual Indigenous cultural celebration held in St Catharines. Brian was on the organizing committee for the Landscape of Nations – a tribute to the role Indigenous people played in the War of 1812. As a member of Landscape of Nations, Brian now is working with a dedicated team of educators, historians and community members who are re-writing the history of the War of 1812 through an Indigenous lens that will become part of school curriculum across the country. Brian’s interest in Indigenous education includes his participation in advisory committees for the Indigenous Education Management Circle (Niagara College), Aboriginal Education Council (Brock University) and he is the Indigenous Lead for Niagara Catholic District School Board, where he is the Co-Chair of the Indigenous Education Advisory Committee.

As a visual artist, Brian’s art pays homage to his Cree/Métis ancestors through his paintings, which have been on display around the globe, including a current piece on extended display in Ontario’s legislature. Proud of what his art represents, Brian provides workshops in schools and throughout community as a way of telling the story of Métis people, but also to draw attention to important issues that face Indigenous people – Indian Residential Schools, Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women, and Two Spirited people.

Gary Parker

Gary Parker

Advisory Council Member

Gary is the Principle Consultant for an Aboriginal owned consulting company with a focus in the areas of program development, governance, effective communications and strategic planning and other Aboriginal culturally relevant services.

Gary is a Faithkeeper (a title holder) in the Aboriginal community where he was raised (Tonawanda Seneca Territory). He has a strong cultural knowledge as well as the necessary requirements for working with the mainstream. This combined balance provides him with the strong cultural standing. He implements this balance with the many Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities he works with.

Mr. Parker’s academic background is in Aboriginal Education as well as Business Management. He has been formally educated about the uniqueness of Aboriginal Epistemologies as well as holistic approaches to Aboriginal Education in which he incorporates into his work today. Gary carries an extensive background in management by his past experiences as a leader of a mainstream senior management team for a variety of profiled construction projects throughout the United States and Canada.

Gary has had the opportunity to work with many First Nations Communities across Turtle Island as well as he works with many Urban Aboriginal/Native communities. Gary has worked with On-Reserve communities such as: Cape Croker First Nations, Six Nations, New Credit, Big River Band of Sask., Tonawanda Seneca, Seneca Nation of Indians at Cattaraugus and Allegany, etc…. Urban Communities: Fort Erie Native Friendship Centre, Niagara Regional Native Centre, SOADI, Abbey House (Women’s Transitional Shelter), Hamilton Native Friendship Centre, Chiefs of Ontario, etc…Mainstream: City of Toronto, Niagara Region, Niagara Training and Adjustment Board, Service Canada, AFN, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs, Public Health of Canada, etc…

Gary has also sat and continues to sit on many Aboriginal Boards and committees within the Province and New York State. He provides guidance and structure to boards and committees throughout Ontario and New York State. Gary brings a variety of skills and experiences which he incorporates into work so that consumers are provided with the best possible results.

Jennifer Dockstader

Jennifer Dockstader

Advisory Council Member

Jennifer Dockstader
Executive Director of the Fort Erie Native Friendship Centre
Jennifer is from the Oneida of the Thames, Bear Clan, and a citizen of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. She is a strong believer in her people and her Indigenous traditions and believes there is no higher honour than to be of service to the people. Jennifer graduated from Buffalo Academy of Visual and Performing Arts as the top music student with a Major in Vocal Music. Jennifer went on to achieve an advanced degree in Psychology from Temple University with a specialization in Addiction and Childhood Sexual Abuse. For over 30 years, Jennifer has worked with her Indigenous community to help people become stronger and healthier. Jennifer has been President of Niagara Chapter Native Women Inc., President of Survivor’s House of Hope, and President of the Fort Erie Native Friendship Centre over the years. A proud mother Auntie, daughter, sister, granddaughter and friend Jennifer believes in the strength of women no matter which role they take in society. As the Executive Director for the Fort Erie Native Friendship Centre in 2014, Jennifer believes in the Vision and Mission statement of the Organization “To Enhance All Aspects of Native Life While Extending Friendship to the Community” and “Together for a Stronger Tomorrow”.

Phil Davis

Advisory Council Member

Phil Davis, Mohawk, has resided in St. Catharines most of his life. Phil has been an active member of his community for many decades. His cultural knowledge and congenial disposition have offered him numerous opportunities to share his knowledge, to educate and entertain the public, and to learn more about himself and others. As a musician he is equally adept at performing traditional Haudenosaunee social dance songs, powwow songs that originate from the Great Plains, and contemporary popular music on guitar and vocals with his rock band Ol' Child. He enjoys life, particularly when sharing enlightening experiences with others whenever possible. Phil is currently the cultural coordinator at the Niagara Regional Friendship Centre.