APTN National News
MONTREAL – Chief Christine Zachary-Deom says she doesn’t get nervous when it comes to public speaking.
But it’s also not every day she’s entrusted to speak Mohawk in front of the mayor, the premier of Quebec, the prime minister and hundreds of other dignitaries.
“It was very difficult, one of the words was 13 syllables long, try not to stumble over that,” said Zachary-Deom, who’s from nearby Kahnawake Mohawk Territory.
She spoke at a mass Wednesday in Montreal’s venerable Catholic bastion, Notre-Dame Basilica in old Montreal.
The occasion was the 375th anniversary of the founding of the city, and the words were from the book of Sirach, a passage that Zarchary-Deom felt spoke to the occasion.
“It celebrates the children of famous men, and there sitting in the audience were all these politicians who have grown up that way. And it celebrates the actions of their forefathers and what they’ve done, and how they’ve secured the way forward for their children,” said Zarchary-Deom.
Following mass, the delicate notes of choir singing carried dignitaries outside to the Place-des-Armes, were they were greeted with the thumping drum circle of group The Buffalo Hat Singers. There Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a point of recognizing First Nations contributions to Montreal.
“We’re here today to pay tribute to founders of this city,” Trudeau said gesturing to a nearby statue of Paul Chomedey de Maisonneuve, “who decided to establish their colony on land whose importance had already been recognized by the Hochelaga people. It is because of their work, as well as the efforts of the settlers and Indigenous peoples who joined them that Montreal took its first steps as a city.”
When the French settled here, it was already a metropolis and its name is Tiohtià:ke said Assembly of First Nations of Quebec & Labrador Chief Ghislain Picard at the same ceremony.
“It’s the name the Mohawk gave it because it was an important territory, a place for gathering and trade for several First Nations. Permit me to also salute the unofficial founders that we have unfortunately forgotten over the course of time, these First Nations, notably my Mohawk brothers and sisters,” said Picard.
As part of year-long 375th celebrations, Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre has recently declared Montreal to be the “Metropolis of Reconciliation”.
“We must recognize that we are currently on traditional unceded Mohawk territory, we recognize also that, 375 years later, the consequences colonization had on Indigenous people,” said Coderre at the ceremony. “On this day that marks the 375th anniversary, we cannot re-write history, but we can certainly contribute to reconciliation between our peoples.”
Among the things Montreal has planned is a redesign of its flag, which currently recognizes the French, Scottish, English, and Irish as founders of the city.
“That flag will be ready in September,” said Zachary-Deom “I’m on the committee, I know it’s being taken very seriously in terms of what the symbolism will be.”
For now Zachary-Deom intends to enjoy the day, and said she’s pleased with how far things of come.
“You know, that building [Notre-Dame Basilica] we paid for. Kahnawake itself, in 1841 $4000 went into building that second tower. The Sulpicians knew we had some money, they asked to borrow it, when it came time to pay in back, the federal government stepped in and said ‘give it to us, we’ll redistribute it’. So I celebrate the place, I feel like it’s mine. I paid for it,” she said.