Observing National Indigenous Peoples Day
June 21 marks National Indigenous Peoples Day, an official recognition of First Nations, Inuit and Metis communities in Canada. In 1996, the Government of Canada designated June 21 National Indigenous Peoples Day because it is near or on the date of the summer solstice, a day on which Indigenous communities have celebrated their culture and heritage for generations.
National Indigenous Peoples Day highlights the brilliance of Indigenous people, and how despite the efforts of colonization to eradicate their identities, Indigenous cultures, peoples and languages have persisted. Take the potlatch for instance, a ceremony that is vital to the governance, spirituality and culture of First Nations on the Northwest Coast. Despite being banned for 66 years under federal law, potlatches continued to be held in secret from 1885 to 1951. The same goes for Indigenous languages, which were spoken and passed down in secret, though forbidden under the Indian Act. Over the years, there have been so many moments of Indigenous resistance, which continue to this day - Idle No More and The Unist'ot'en Camp are just two examples.
Today, Indigenous people face multiple barriers in our society. Though The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls was released two weeks ago, it is not news that Indigenous women are six times more likely to be victims of femicide than non-Indigenous women, while Indigenous youth represent over half of youth living in foster care, despite representing just 5.9% of youth in Canada. Indigenous adults are overrepresented in Canadian incarceration rates and face burdens of ill health due to a number of factors, including lack of clean drinking water and food security, poverty, chronic conditions and substance use issues.
These are systemic issues that will require ongoing work to change. As settlers, we need to reflect on what we’ll do to be a part of this change. Here are four ways you can observe National Indigenous Peoples Day and continue to participate in the ongoing work of reconciliation:
1. Join community celebrations.
The main celebration in Vancouver will start with a pancake breakfast at the Vancouver Aboriginal Friendship Centre Society, followed by a walk to Trout Lake Park, where there will be food and festivities from 12pm to 5pm. There will also be celebrations in Surrey and New Westminster, while The Cinematheque is screening two documentaries by Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers.
2. Learn and implement the calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Final Report.
How can we advance reconciliation? There are 94 recommendations outlined in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Final Report, which lists calls to action that can be applied at individual and systemic levels.
3. Stay tuned into Indigenous media.
Learn about current Indigenous perspectives through media, including reading books by Indigenous authors and following Indigenous media sources. Local stations like Vancouver Co-op Radio 100.5FM have a number of Indigenous shows on their programming such as Métis Matters, When Spirit Whispers and Sne’waylh.
4. Study Indigenous history and worldviews.
One way to join in reconciliation is restoring history and learning about Canadian colonization from an Indigenous perspective. There are so many resources and places to start when it comes to our learning. Here are a few books you can start with: First Nations 101, Islands of Decolonial Love, and Braiding Sweetgrass.
YWCA Metro Vancouver is committed to the full realization of equality for Indigenous peoples, and has a long history of working with Indigenous groups to provide holistic, culturally relevant programs and services. We are also committed to embedding a culture of Reconciliation across the organization, including developing training for staff on the history and legacies of colonialism and how to be an ally.