Canada’s National Aboriginal Day and the West Coast celebration

Celebrating Aboriginal peoples and their contributions to Canada has Gillian Thomson and her brother Robert gearing up for their celebratory performances for National Aboriginal Day (June 21) and the main stage at Canada Place (Sat. June 20 at 12:00p.m.). The siblings are frontmen for Vancouver’s soulful band Sister Says; and given the recent reconciliation events, Thomson says it is a particularly special performance.

For most Indigenous people, art is a way of life,” says Thomson.

The Thomson siblings Gillian (left) and Robert. | Photo by Leigh Righton

The Thomson siblings Gillian (left) and Robert. | Photo by Leigh Righton

On Canada’s west coast, musicians, dancers and storytellers from local aboriginal communities, including, but not limited to, Squamish, Haida, Lil’wat, and Musqueam, will gather in Vancouver to perform for the public and share their culture through art.

While the name Sister Says, seemingly a friendly joke between the siblings, suggests Gillian as the leader of the duo, both siblings contribute creatively and artistically to the bands music and performances.

Sister Says shifts from an intimate duo to a full band during their live performances, with Gillian on vocals and percussion and Robert on keyboard
and guitar.

“Their sound is smooth, their lyrics intelligent and their creative chemistry produces a new take on songs redolent to Annie Lennox and The Eurhythmics,” says Janet Rogers of BC Musician Magazine.

Having just released their second album “Heart Placement,” Sister Says have many shows planned in the upcoming summer months.

Artistic influences

Sister Says, a soulful band. | Photo by Leigh Righton

Sister Says, a soulful band. | Photo by Leigh Righton

Growing up in Port Coquitlam, the Thomson siblings’ Haida and Tsimshian communities were grounds for their artistic development.

“It’s what you grow up with and encouragement of being creative is just natural,” says Thomson, referring to the influence of art in indigenous communities.

Their family always supported them being creative and artistic. And as for the performance gene: their father, a self-taught blues guitar player, is who they travelled and performed with in shows across Canada.

Although now based in Vancouver, Sister Says has been writing and performing for about seven years and carry their family and communities with them.

“Our ancestry is part of who we are. Who we are influences the music we make,” says Thomson.

Family, community and ancestry are inherent to their art – making this medium an appropriate and effective way of sharing their Indigenous culture for National Aboriginal Day.

Reason to celebrate

Given its significance as the longest day of the year, Aboriginal communities have historically celebrated their culture on or near June 21, thus prompting the date being officially dubbed National Aboriginal Day.

National Aboriginal Day, part of the Celebrate Canada program, is dedicated across Canada to the celebration of the heritage, culture and achievements of Canadian First Nations, Inuit and Métis people.

“[I feel] positive in knowing that events like this are a way forward for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people,” posts Thomson, on the Sister Says website.

Sister Says will showcase new material and also their collaboration with Indigenous Hip Hop artist InfoRed on “I Remember,” a song dedicated to Residential School survivors.

“Residential school had a ripple effect. It contributed to our Grandma’s strained relationship with our father who is always wanting to connect more with his Indigenous roots,” posts Thomson, on the Sister Says website. “Residential school and racism had a major impact on our Grandma’s feelings of self-worth as she was ashamed to be an Indigenous woman and was shell shocked by bad experiences that had happened in her life.”

Vancouver’s Canada Place celebration (June 20, 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.) will involve a variety of Aboriginal performances, including traditional dances and storytelling.

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