Today is National Indigenous Peoples Day in Canada.
This year, today is also Father’s Day and that’s what will be forefront in most people’s minds, as would be expected. Fathers are very deserving of their special recognition, especially after 3+ months of lockdown with their families!
But June 21 is National Indigenous Peoples Day in Canada every year, and it’s important not to let this celebration fall under the radar because of Father’s Day and the constraints of COVID-19. This National Day has been gaining prominence, at least in our region in eastern Canada, as a welcomed opportunity for non-Indigenous folk to learn more about Indigenous culture, history, and their arts and crafts, and to interact in a joyous way with their Indigenous neighbours. This is a hugely important step in the very slow but hopefully steady appreciation of the strength of present-day Indigenous communities and respect for these communities and their cultures.
It is difficult for me to write this without highlighting the many, many injustices perpetrated on Canada’s Indigenous Peoples over the past hundreds of years. Injustices which just don’t stop, despite the painful but thorough work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the 94 calls to action of their final report, most of which have yet to be realized. Despite the lack of action on the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women inquiry. Despite continuing systemic racism in the police systems and criminal justice system. Despite many things. But I’m going to reserve this tragic and shameful history for another post, because the spirit of National Indigenous Peoples Day is one of celebration. And celebrate we shall.
National Indigenous Peoples Day was established in Canada to recognize and celebrate the unique heritage, diverse cultures and outstanding contributions of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples, each of which have their own distinct heritage, language, cultural practices and spiritual beliefs to share.
For generations, many Indigenous peoples and communities have celebrated their culture and heritage on or near this day due to the significance of the summer solstice as the longest day of the year. I can tell you that when you live in a northern clime, the longest day of the year is very welcome and very long! Even where I live, just east of Maine, it’s still light until 10 p.m. and then light again at about 4-4:30 a.m. Pretty special, definitely worthy of celebration. Hence, the selection of June 21 for this national day of recognition of our Indigenous peoples could not be more appropriate.
So, on this blessed longest day of the year (for half the planet), the National Indigenous Peoples Day is usually marked across Canada by ceremonies and celebrations that highlight cultural performances and activities, displays of arts and crafts, and events that demonstrate the traditional ways of life of Indigenous people. These events have grown significantly in our town in the past several years and have become very popular. Local First Nations Pow-wows and craft shows attract hundreds of non-Indigenous visitors. For the past 6 years that there have been Pow-wows at our local university, where literally thousands attend. These events are colourful, enlightening, entertaining, and joyous. They usually include day-long dancing, singing, and drumming competitions. Indigenous dancing, drumming, and craft-making demonstrations draw many non-Indigenous participants eager to try these skills.
National Indigenous Peoples Day activities will be sorely missed this year; they are being cancelled, like so many other large gatherings, due to continuing COVID-19 concerns. (Our Canada Day celebrations have also been cancelled for this year.) Instead, the ads in our paper and posters around town and online are encouraging people to celebrate the National Day through alternate virtual activities. Definitely not the same thing, but it is heartening to see that the Day is still being promoted, as it should be.
In lieu of being able to share pictures from the usual outdoor activities this year, I will share some pictures from past celebrations to give you a flavour of the festive atmosphere. In addition, some of you might be interested in following this link provided by Indigenous Corporate Training Inc, which contains numerous suggestions for ways to celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day virtually due to COVID.
I’m going to preface these pictures from previous community events using the phrasing we are now used to hearing at the start of most cultural and university events across Canada. I realize that some people feel that this has become a meaningless rote phrase and that nobody pays any attention, but I beg to differ. In my home town, people usually applaud at the conclusion of this statement. It is meaningful and it resonates:
Before sharing some pictures, I would like to acknowledge that the land on which we gathered for these activities is the traditional unceded territory of the Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet) and Mi’kmaq Peoples. This territory is covered by the “Treaties of Peace and Friendship” which Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet) and Mi’kmaq Peoples first signed with the British crown in 1725. The treaties did not deal with surrender of lands and resources but in fact recognized Mi’kmaq and Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet) title and established the rules for what was to be an ongoing relationship between nations.
In other words, the land upon which most Canadians live, work and enjoy our recreation in actuality never stopped belonging to Canada’s Indigenous Peoples. We are at least now reminded of that fact.
And, as a bonus, a few lovely illustrations from the provincial curriculum guidelines for Wolastoqiyik and Mi’kmaq Studies, drawn by artist Natalie Sappier.
Happy National Indigenous Peoples Day, everyone. May future National Indigenous Peoples Days continue to bring people from all over ever greater understanding and respect for the original inhabitants of what we now call Canada.