The month of June is always full of excitement- school is nearly done, the sun shines stronger and longer as we move towards the summer solstice and most everyone is planning their summer adventures.
For the Indigenous communities across the country June is the month that we focus in on the challenges and highlights of the year. There are many community events that are planned and open houses to invite our non-Indigenous neighbors to feast with us, to share with us and to celebrate with us. We recognize National Aboriginal Day on June 21st
In Calgary we have a long history of celebrating Aboriginal Awareness Week that is kicked off at Olympic Plaza with an official proclamation by our Mayor Naheed Nenshi, great Indigenous entertainment, the honouring of community leaders and Elders, and of course free food. Calgary was the first city to dedicate a whole week in honour of National Aboriginal Day and many agencies and industry partners in the city take the time to visit with each other over the week, host events in their small communities and remind us all if only for one day to respect and honour the first peoples of this land.
As I reflect on the quote above by the former Governor General who first proclaimed June 21st
to be National Aboriginal Day I can’t help but wonder if after 20 years we are at place where Canadians truly honour their first peoples. I also reflect on his comment that we as the first peoples “brought humanity to this great land”- this is something that not all Canadians believe in my opinion.
In light of all the conversations around the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action, and the recent polling of general attitudes towards Indigenous people and the systemic racism that still exists in this country we still have a way to go in terms of honouring, understanding and respecting the unique position that the first peoples of this land hold within Canada.
There are many barriers for us all as Treaty People to still overcome; Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls, systemic racism and discrimination, youth suicide, poor housing and water access in communities, equitable health and education for all children and youth, healing from the legacy of residential schools, sixties scoop and foster care epidemics to name the top concerns in our communities.
There are also many things to be thankful for and to be proud of; the increase of our young people speaking out and doing everything in their power to support important causes, fundraise for those in need, use their voices as future leaders to remind us of what the important things in life are.
This year both in provincial and federal races we saw a tremendous incline in Indigenous candidates as well as strong campaigns to “Rock the Indigenous Vote” – there were many reports of polling stations on reserves running out of ballots due to the increase of voter participation.
We have more and more Indigenous scholars, writers, actors, singers, politicians and grass roots leaders that aren’t afraid to tell their stories, tell the truth about what it means to be Indigenous in Canada, the good, the bad and the beauty. These role models are paving the way for those future leaders in all our communities and they are holding their own unique space in the fabric of Canadian society. These examples break down the walls and barriers so that Canadians in general can see us for who we really are, not the representation or cartoon version. These examples allow Canadians to better understand the truth and find ways to connect with us all as human beings, to discuss reconciliation and hopefully not just on National Aboriginal Day, but all through the year, learn to honour the first peoples of this land “who brought humanity”- and we want to share that honour with you.
For more information on the history of National Aboriginal Day, there is a great video on the Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada website here:
For more information on Aboriginal Awareness Week in Calgary you can check out the calendar of events here:
Come celebrate with us on Monday June 20th
at the Opening Ceremonies from 11:30-1:30pm at the Olympic Plaza, for a free BBQ lunch, great entertainment, Honouring of Community Elders and the Mayor’s Proclomation. We will also have artisan tables and information sharing.
(Click on the image on the left to enlarge)
Monique Fry is from the Cheam First Nation in BC, and is honoured to call Treaty 7 territory and Metis Nation Region 3 her home.