This Wednesday, June 21st marks Canada’s 21st National Aboriginal Day, and there are plenty of ways to celebrate! From Victoria, BC to Charlottetown, PEI, Canada’s First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people will gather to share their spirit, stories, songs, dance, art, and experiences with anyone who will join them. Canadians will be coming together to celebrate the distinct cultures of Canada’s Indigenous population and their contributions to the beautiful True North, but before we do, let’s take a minute to learn what all of this really means.
With all of this year’s Canada 150 celebrations, many of us fail to acknowledge that there have been people living on land now known as Canada for over 12,000 years. Less than 500 years ago, this area was inhabited solely by the Indigenous peoples of Canada. Our nation is built upon thousands of years of history. In 1996, after calls by various groups for a national holiday to recognize and celebrate Indigenous people, the Government of Canada declared the summer solstice, June 21st, to be annually recognized as National Aboriginal Day, although it is unfortunately not recognized as a national statutory holiday. All Government of Canada departments support National Aboriginal Day, but specifically Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) and Canadian Heritage work together to promote it. INAC provides resources and ideas for events, while Canadian Heritage provides funding for community events.
If you’d like to join the celebration, there will be plenty of events open to the public in Vancouver, Toronto, and most of Canada’s major cities! In Vancouver, which rests upon the unceded traditional territories of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations, the celebration kicks off at 9:00 am with a pancake breakfast at the Vancouver Aboriginal Friendship Centre Society. Following that, there will be a Friendship Walk to Trout Lake Park for 12:00 pm, where you’ll find vendors, plenty of food (bannock tacos, anyone?), a mini pow wow, a tipi village, and cultural performances ranging from traditional song and dance to a DJ, who will be mixing party sounds with Indigenous beats and rhythms. The festivities will continue until 10:00 pm, so make some time in your schedule to head over to Trout Lake and appreciate this unique (and free!) celebration of Indigenous cultures!
For the early birds in Toronto, you can head over to Nathan Phillips Square at City Hall at 5:30am for a Sunrise Ceremony followed by a permanent flag installation representing the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation, Six Nations, Huron-Wendat, Métis, and Inuit peoples. After that, head to Fort York National Historic Site, where there will be craft making, food, music workshops, live music and dance, and various films and art installations from June 21st to 25th, with plenty of free and a few paid events! Highlights will include ATPN Aboriginal Day Live on June 21st at 8:00pm, which will be a live streamed event featuring some of the most recognized entertainers in Aboriginal music and television, and June 24th’s Na-Me-Res Traditional Outdoor Pow Wow from 12:00 – 5:00 pm. With five days of celebration in store, Torontonians have no excuse to miss this exciting cultural celebration.
For those in communities outside of Vancouver and Toronto, a full list of National Aboriginal Day events in cities across Canada can be found at https://www.canada.ca/en/canadian-heritage/campaigns/celebrate-canada-days/aboriginal-day/activities.html. Find your hometown and take a friend out for the day!
While National Aboriginal Day 2017 is shaping up to be a fantastic nationwide celebration, it’s important to keep in mind that we still have a long way to go on the road to reconciliation. Canada’s Indigenous peoples continue to face racism, discrimination, oppression, poverty, and disrespect. We are currently in the middle of an drawn-out inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. Just this week, the inquiry commission lost their fourth staffer since February. Our treatment of Canada’s Indigenous population has been disgraceful. This National Aboriginal Day, please celebrate, dance, sing, laugh, eat, and listen. The Reconciliation Canada website has a message that reads, “A vibrant, inclusive Canada where all peoples achieve their full potential and shared prosperity.” We must all do our part to respect and honour those who came before us. Let’s push for a Canada where we treat our neighbours as equals and friends, where equal opportunity isn’t a privilege, and where we celebrate the cultural differences that formed the country we’re all proud to call home.
- Kate Gardiner