A #YUBlog Guide to Celebrating National Indigenous Peoples Day

Posted by York & U on June 21, 2018

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On Thursday, June 21st, celebrations will take place across Canada in the name of National Indigenous Peoples Day. Some may be Powwows, others may be bustling Indigenous pop-up street markets and others may offer the opportunity to adorn First Nations-made beaded earrings. There are many ways to celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day — however, many Canadians may not understand what this day is, why it is needed and how to appropriately celebrate the occasion.

For this post, the #YUBlog has partnered with York University’s Centre for Aboriginal Student Services (CASS) and Larissa Crawford, Indigenous Student Transitions Coordinator at CASS, to develop a special-edition guide to National Indigenous Peoples Day! CASS provides York U Indigenous students, staff and faculty with culturally appropriate services and supports and works with the York University community to Indigenize York University spaces. We hope this guide will give you some insight into National Indigenous Peoples Day and help you celebrate!

A photo of the entrance of the Centre for Student Services.
You can visit the Centre for Aboriginal Student Services in room 246 York Lanes on the Keele Campus!

What is National Indigenous Peoples Day?

June 21 was chosen to celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day because it corresponds with the summer solstice, the longest day of the year and a time that many Indigenous groups have traditionally celebrated culture and heritage. In 1996, the Governor General of Canada proclaimed that the federal government will recognize National Aboriginal Day on this date. In 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the symbolic renaming of the holiday to “National Indigenous Peoples Day,” coinciding with the preferred term to refer to the original inhabitants of what we now know as Canada.

You’ll often see a generic explanation of National Indigenous Peoples Day as a time for all Canadians to celebrate the cultures of First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples and their contributions to Canada. However, this idea only reflects half of its purpose: National Indigenous Peoples Day also recognizes Canada’s colonial history, the contemporary issues and realities of Indigenous Peoples and Indigenous futurism.

A photo of the CASS welcome area.
If you have any questions about CASS, you can contact them at 416-736-5571!

Why is it Important to Have National Indigenous Peoples Day?

It is important to celebrate Indigenous contributions to Canada, and to celebrate the rich and diverse cultures of Indigenous Peoples. What many Canadians do not realize is that there are many nations of Indigenous People in Canada: there is no one “Indigenous perspective”, universal Indigenous beliefs or style of art and dance. National Indigenous Peoples Day is an opportunity to learn about and celebrate the unique Indigenous People in your community or region!

However, to choose only to celebrate certain aspects and contributions of Indigenous Peoples can actually do more harm than good. If we decide to ignore colonial legacies and only recognize the beautiful artwork or ceremony of Indigenous People, then not only do we erase their harsh historical and contemporary realities, but we fail to recognize the resiliency and strength it took to keep Indigenous cultures and people alive (which only makes everything worth celebrating all that more impressive and inspiring).

A photo of a Thunderbird carved across two doors in the CASS office.
CASS is home to “Strength of Thunderbird”, a beautiful art piece by Jay Bell Redbird.

We can’t change the past; however, we can be honest and educate ourselves so that history does not repeat itself . . . Through a sense of hope, we can develop a path forward together, as our ancestors intended.” – Georgina Jolibois, 2017

What Resources Can I Use to Learn about Indigenous Peoples?

National Indigenous Peoples Day offers everyone an opportunity to deepen their understanding and awareness of the adversities Indigenous People face and have overcome. With the efforts to Indigenize and improve relations with Indigenous People following the Calls to Action released by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), culturally appropriate resources and information are readily accessible (and comprehensive) for all Canadians.

With this increased access, the excuse of ignorance is becoming less and less acceptable. However, we at CASS recognize that it can be daunting: not all resources are created equally or appropriately, and with so much information, where do you even begin? Recognizing this, here are a few resources to enhance your understanding of Indigenous history and lived realities:

  • Approved TRC resources
  • “Solving the ‘Indian Problem’: Assimilation Laws, Practices and Indian Residential Schools” (PDF): A brief history of institutionalized genocide and assimilation.
  • Groundwork for Change: An information source geared toward non-Indigenous people that serves as a one stop shop for reliable information. This can help people learn about historical and contemporary issues related to Indigenous peoples and relationships with non-Indigenous governments and peoples in the Canadian state.
  • Indigenous Canada Online Course (University of Alberta): A 12-lesson online course facilitated out of the University of Alberta that, from an Indigenous perspective, explores key issues facing Indigenous peoples today from a historical and critical perspective, highlighting national and local Indigenous-settler relations.
  • Canadian Roots Exchange: A youth-led non-profit organization that seeks to connect Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth through exchanges, the Youth Reconciliation Initiative and a national conference.
  • Mapping Indigenous Languages in Canada: An eye-opening article mapping “[Canada’s] Indigenous linguistic landscape” and the regions in which these languages are spoken today.
A photo of a floral beaded painting by Christi Belcourt.
You can’t miss this stunning piece of artwork created by Métis (Otipemisiwak) artist Christi Belcourt in the CASS office!

How do You Know You’re Celebrating National Indigenous Peoples Day Appropriately?

So you’ve committed to broadening your understanding of National Indigenous Peoples Day, Indigenous history, contemporary realities and Indigenous culture. You may have explored a few of the resources above and had a conversation or two with some Indigenous friends and colleagues. Now, how do you spend National Indigenous Peoples Day, and how do you know you’re doing it in a way that is respectful?

Here are some considerations to ask yourself and some steps to take before and while celebrating National Indigenous Peoples Day:

  • Learn some language! Just as a responsible and courteous traveller learns some basic language skills before immersing themself in a culture and place that is not familiar, so should Canadians learn Indigenous languages. There is a nation-wide push for Indigenous language revitalization and for some to even be recognized as an official language. If this became the case, more than just Indigenous people would have to speak it, right? In the short term, you could take the time and respectfully learn a few greeting and parting words. To learn more about Indigenous language revitalization and languages of Ontario, visit Ontario Investing in Indigenous Language Revitalization.
  • Know whose land you’re on. If you are non-Indigenous, you are occupying land that is being colonized. To have a greater understanding of the original caregivers and history of the land, visit Whose Land. Whose Land is an educational tool and interactive map that is useful for understanding Indigenous treaties and communities across Canada and includes videos of appropriate land acknowledgments.
  • Understand what allyship can look like to Indigenous people. You can find an outline of allyship and an ally’s responsibilities in the Ally Bill of Responsibilities (PDF) by Dr. Lynn Gehl, an Anishinaabe-kwe scholar. This is important to review if you’re concerned about practicing allyship appropriately.
  • Understand that it is not the job of Indigenous People to teach you. Métis/Irish author, Melanie Lefebrve, wrote, “If you don’t have time to educate yourself, then I can’t help you”, in the article, “It’s Not My Job to Teach You about Indigenous People. You should not expect that all Indigenous People are experts on all things Indigenous or that they have the time and energy to teach you.
  • Support Indigenous businesses and services. There are many Indigenous businesses and services across Toronto and the GTA that would benefit from your business and shopping with them can be a great way to support Indigenous people. Visit the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Businesses’ Membership Directory to find an array of Indigenous businesses from across Canada (search by province, name or sector).
  • Know the protocol. Take the time before going to Powwows or Indigenous ceremonies to understand the protocol, whether that be by researching or kindly asking a volunteer or worker once you’ve arrived. Read the CBC’s article, “A Guide to Taking Your Family to a Powwow for the First Time” for some Powwow protocol.
A photo of a quilt on a wall with a large Medicine Wheel on it.
When you walk into CASS, you’ll see this beautiful Medicine Wheel quilt on the wall!

Are There Any Other National Indigenous Peoples Day Celebrations I Can Attend?

If you’re in the Greater Toronto Area and are interested in attending National Indigenous Peoples Day celebrations throughout the week, take a look at a few of these events:

  • If you’re in Brampton, the National Indigenous Peoples Day at Garden Square will be taking place on Thursday, June 21 from 12:30pm to 1:30pm and 6pm to 8:30pm.
  • The Toronto Zoo’s National Indigenous Peoples Day event will take place on Thursday, June 21 and will feature Indigenous music, art, vendors and speakers. Free admission will be provided to Aboriginal peoples with the presentation of a status card, Métis card or an Inuit Health Branch Client Identification Number (N-Number).
  • Visit the Indigenous Arts Festival taking place between Thursday, June 21 and Sunday, June 24 at Fort York. The event includes education days and public festivals!
  • Attend the Na-Me-Res Annual Powwow on Saturday, June 23 at Fort York starting at noon EST.
  • Go to APTN Indigenous Day Live on Saturday, June 23 at Fort York starting at 5pm EST and catch some of the most recognized entertainers in Indigenous music and television!
  • The Native Canadian Centre of Toronto is having an Indigenous History Month Celebration taking place on Wednesday, June 27, from noon to 8pm EST in Dundas Square. The event is free.

Searching keywords such as “National Indigenous Peoples Day [place of interest] 2018” on Google will provide you with a great selection of events taking place across Toronto and the GTA!

How will you honour National Indigenous Peoples Day? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter @YorkUStudents!

This #YUBlog post was written by Larissa Crawford. Larissa is a graduating undergraduate student from the International Development Studies and Communication Studies programs and the Indigenous Student Transitions Coordinator at CASS. She identifies as Métis-Jamaican and contributes actively to her communities through her Indigenous and anti-racism policy work and research. Larissa regularly delivers speeches and workshops to youth and professionals across Canada on a variety of topics and is most often accompanied by her 1-year-old daughter, Zyra.

Please note that the banner image for this blog post features the artwork of Métis (Otipemisiwak) artist Christi Belcourt.

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