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National Aboriginal Day: Honouring and serving Indigenous women


June 21 is National Aboriginal Day in Canada. On this day, we recognize and celebrate the unique heritage, diverse cultures and contributions of our country’s Indigenous people.

But do we know who and what we are celebrating? The history of Indigenous peoples of Canada in official texts is incomplete; not surprisingly, information about notable Aboriginal women in Canadian history is especially lacking.

In 2013, a non-Indigenous woman, Sally Simpson painstakingly compiled a list of Indigenous women leaders upon realizing how little information was available on the topic. Simpson’s list is a great place to begin an education about the accomplishments of First Nations, Inuit and Métis women.

“Indigenous women are a vital part of the fabric of Canada,” Simpson told the Toronto Star in 2013. Simpson’s list of 75 women includes Lillian Dyck, who hid her Cree ancestry so she could earn her doctorate in 1981, and became the first female Indigenous neuroscientist; and Patricia Monture-Angus who refused and won the right to not pledge her oath to the Queen of England when she was called to the bar in 1992.

More than ever, Canadians have expressed a willingness to learn the truth and history of Canada's Indigenous peoples. According to research by Environics Institute, almost 9 out of 10 (87%) urban Canadians feel that Aboriginal history and culture are important in defining Canada today. The research also found that most Canadians support policies related to Aboriginal rights and reconciliation, such as mandatory curriculum in all schools to teach Aboriginal history and culture.

Notably, June 21, 2016, is also the first National Aboriginal Day since the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was released. Constituted and created by the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, the commission listened to 6,000 witnesses share their truths about their experiences in residential schools, a system of cultural genocide.

Reconciliation is a priority at YWCA Metro Vancouver and we are committed to supporting the full realization of equality for Canada’s Indigenous people. YWCA has had a long history of providing culturally appropriate services to Aboriginal peoples, and also engaging Aboriginal people in our volunteer base and labour force. At YWCA Crabtree Corner Community Resource Centre, where two-thirds of the people we serve are Indigenous, we offer an Aboriginal Infant Development program, a FASD Sacred Circle for Moms, an Intergenerational FASD Support Group, and Books, Bags and Babies, an early literacy program that incorporates Indigenous traditions. We also host the YWCA Circle of Sisters Indigenous Mentorship Program, which provides opportunities for Indigenous girls and women to connect with community, culture and tradition with the help of elders and skilled facilitators.

In 2013, YWCA Metro Vancouver joined thousands in the Walk for Reconciliation in Vancouver. Three years later, we continue the hard work of reconciliation. Today, we can set a new direction for Canada’s future by acknowledging the truth of our country’s history, and to answer the commission’s clarion calls to action.

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