As the sun set over teepees on the Halifax Common yesterday, organizers of the Membertou 400 were calling the celebration an overwhelming success.

The four-day event marked the 400th anniversary of the baptism of Grand Chief Henri Membertou in Annapolis Royal.

Sixteen teepees were erected on the Common for the event, each housing a unique educational experience — from playing Waltes, a traditional Mi'kmaq game using bones and dice, to learning about basket making to traditional aboriginal Canadian storytelling and legend.

“It was highly successful ... better than expected,” Rosalee Francis, cultural coordinator for Membertou 400, said about the event.

“People (were) so eager to learn about aboriginal culture, Mi’kmaq culture. It was fantastic.”

Francis, who hails from Indian Brook, said the cultural village where participants learned about traditional aboriginal Canadian life was a particular hit.

“(The village) was primarily set up for non-aboriginal people to see aboriginal culture at its purest form,” she said.

“The way we had it set up, was that (the demonstrators) were supposed to get a break every hour, but there was ... no opportunity because the crowds didn’t stop, and they were so eager to learn more.”

Francis said aboriginal people from as far away as Idaho, Alberta and Arizona were in attendance. She estimated around 6,000 people attended through the four days.

As hundreds watched traditional aboriginal Canadian drumming and dancing next to her, Francis said she thinks the most important lesson to take away from this celebration is the necessity of education for both aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians.

“You run into people all the time that say, ‘I wasn’t taught this in school,’” she said. “Sometimes, that’s what causes a lot of bad relationships between our cultures — a lack of knowledge.”

Tourists like what they see

Linda Stansling wasn’t in Halifax celebrating Grand Chief Membertou’s baptism 400 years ago.

She was paying tribute to the survival of her culture.

“What drew us here was ... what I consider a survival, and a victory, for us as First Nations people to have survived those 400 years of contact (with Europeans),” she said yesterday.

Stansling, who is from the White Bear First Nation in Saskatchewan, danced competitively in the four-day Membertou 400 celebration at the Halifax Common. She, along with her friend Karen Pheasard, have been dancing at powwows for 40 years.

Pheasard and Stansling travelled to Nova Scotia several days in advance of the festivities, in order to take in a rare opportunity to be a tourist.

Both said they liked what they saw — at the powwow and elsewhere.

“For First Nations people, the reality is, particularly out west, discrimination ... and we heard that it exists here, like any other typical city,” said Pheasard.

“But we haven’t experienced (discrimination) here,” Stansling quickly added. “Everyone has treated us with respect everywhere we went.”

Still standing

• The festivities wrapped up last evening with the closing ceremonies. The teepees will remain standing today for the arrival of Queen Elizabeth.

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