'We need to bring the truth': Ottawa marks the inaugural Chief Pinesi Day

It was a personal journey for Wendy Jocko as she retraced the portage route of her great-grandfather Chief Constant Pinesi on Friday.

Jocko is Chief of the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation and she helped inaugurate "Chief Pinesi Day" in Ottawa.

The day to be celebrated on July 1 to honour Grand Chief Constant Pinesi, the history of the land, and the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation.

"This is the first ceremony that we are having to honour our Grand Chief Pinesi," Jocko said. "And I think it is important that the city of Ottawa is aware that this was his traditional hunting ground and this is where the national capital is on his territory - Algonquin territory."

Jocko took a canoe along the Ottawa River and docked near Stanley Avenue in New Edinburgh.

"It felt good, I was putting myself in the past to the 1800s," she says. "It felt very special to retrace the footsteps of my great grandfather."

Chief Constant Pinesi was a hunter, a band leader, and a warrior. He fought in the war of 1812, and his hunting grounds were along the Ottawa River. Many of Pinesi’s descendants gathered on the grounds to bring attention to the long-forgotten Grand Chief.

For some members of First Nations communities, Canada Day is a difficult day because of the country’s dark colonial past, including the former residential schools and unmarked graves.

"Today is personal for me," says Merv Sarazin.

Sarazin is a member of the Pikwakanagan First Nation and says he recently learned he is a descendant of Pinesi.

"July 1 is a day we should be recognizing truth and reconciliation, and in light of that we need to bring the truth about Pinesi," Sarazin said.

The Algonquin community as well as other Ottawa residents gathered at the New Edinburgh Fieldhouse to learn about the Chief and his historical significance.  

"It was all hidden. And we are bringing it to light," Sarazin said.

Events included traditional drumming and dancing, as well as a sacred fire and prayer. Groups were also lead on a walking tour of the area to learn about the surrounding nature of the land.

Sylvie Beaudry lives in the area and brought her family to, "Learn about the history of the beautiful lands that we live on, and to share that with my boys. And share space with a variety of different people is really nice.”

The Chief Pinesi Portage Trail was also introduced Friday, with interpretive markers along a three kilometre route from the river through Rockcliffe. The route is thought to be where Pinesi portaged to bypass the Rideau Falls.

"I hope that people take the time to learn about First Nation history, not just here in Ottawa but all across Canada," Jocko said. "We have a very rich history, we have been here for thousands of years, and we are here to stay.”