The FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre (PAC), Michele-Elise Burnett and Tim Johnson proudly celebrate the successful conclusion of Celebration of Nations (CofN) and its on-going programming after 7 years of strengthening community through the gifts of Indigenous Artists and Wisdom Keepers in a multi-day gathering that took place each September at the PAC.

In partnership with the Indigenous consulting company Kakekalanicks, Michele-Elise Burnett and Tim Johnson, the PAC has proudly produced Celebration of Nations since 2016 under the leadership of Founder and Artistic Director Michele Elise Burnett (Métis MNO citizen with Algonquin roots, Bear Clan), and Artistic Producer Tim Johnson (Mohawk from Six Nations of the Grand River). The gathering was first produced by the PAC as a response to Canada’s 150th celebration and to bring into action recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

We would like to extend our thanks and gratitude to all of the local and visiting contributors, advisors, Elders, artists, community members, sponsors, Friends of Celebration of Nations, donors, funders and attendees who have supported the gathering over the years.

Over the years, CofN brought thousands of community members together to learn, to share and to begin the healing journey in an inclusive gathering intended to foster belonging, support meaningful reconciliation, and leave a legacy of goodwill for future generations. In October 2023, Celebration of Nations, the City of St. Catharines and FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre were nationally recognized with the Cultural Event Award from the Creative City Network of Canada and were finalists for the Indigenous Tourism Award in the Ontario Tourism Industry Awards of Excellence.

The PAC applauds the many achievements of Celebrations of Nations, which includes:  commissioning of Curtain Call by Lily Otasevic, the striking public art piece on the Carlisle Street side of the PAC that drew its inspiration from the wampum bead and philosophy; the annual Procession of Nations that gathered Elders, dignitaries and community to honour Indigenous veterans; the growth of Strong Water Singers, a local female drum group out of the Fort Erie Friendship Centre that has blossomed exponentially since year one and continues to bring medicine to the community; the creation of a traditional Birch Bark Canoe created by Master Builder Chuck Commanda with Fred Bowering, which was the first time a traditional canoe was created and touched water in Niagara for more than 100 years; such outstanding productions as RUMBLE: The Indians  Who Rocked the World, TREATY: A Reconciliation Revelry, and Border Crossing/Blues; the creation of the Celebration of Nations Achievement Awards, which honoured the exceptional achievements of 31 Indigenous creators, Wisdom Keepers and Allies; the Sharing of the Sacred Fire, which was the first time in over 200 years that the First Nations and Metis Nation shared the sacred fire together; Drums Across Canada, which virtually brought Indigenous nations together from coast to coast in a celebration of unity; the Red Dress Exhibit, which created international media coverage and awareness of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Woman and Girls + in striking fashion by telling the individual stories of 13 families impacted by this crisis; and the successful production of over 287 events from sharing circles to contemporary dance premieres.

“Celebration of Nations has been my passion, and it has been a privilege to nurture it since its inception. As the Founder of CofN, I embarked on this journey with a vision to create a platform where diverse Indigenous Nations could intertwine, share stories, and flourish in unity.  In essence, my goal was to create a beacon of cultural celebration. Witnessing its growth and success over the past seven years at the PAC has been immensely gratifying.

I am deeply honored to have brought Celebration of Nations to the Niagara Region where it has fostered collaboration between our vibrant Indigenous communities and provided a platform for the empowerment of our youth. The memories and experiences of these years will forever hold a special place in my heart and soul.

Celebration of Nations has been an exemplar of excellence, inclusivity and diversity for all cultural events across Canada and the world.  I express my sincerest appreciation for the support, camaraderie, and memories shared throughout this journey.  My commitment to the values and spirit of Celebration of Nations remains unwavering.”

Michele-Elise Burnett

“It has been a privilege to have worked with the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre on the development and implementation of Celebration of Nations, to advance Indigenous artistic expression, free and open discourse on significant issues important to our peoples, and environmental initiatives intended to sustain viable futures for the Seventh Generation. Much of the impetus for the gathering was founded upon the application of coherent Indigenous knowledge with the intention of bridging understandings and perspectives among all peoples, consistent with intellectual honesty and integrity and the principles of Two-Eyed Seeing and Ethical Space. I look forward to working on the same streams of programs and themes that I created and curated for Celebration of Nations that served to establish its distinct and credible oeuvre, ranging from contemporary Indigenous music productions to the development of educational platforms, exhibits, and conservation initiatives, to honouring esteemed members of the community.”

—  Tim Johnson

“The PAC remains committed to its work in Truth and Reconciliation. In addition to continuing to collaborate with Michele-Elise and Tim on individual projects, we look forward to supporting future programs and events with local Indigenous leaders and artists, as we continue to do our part to promote all Nations walking together, in parallel, with respect, compassion and understanding to cultivate an inclusive community for our shared future.”

—  Colleen A. Smith, CEO, FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre