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Honouring Indigenous Peoples of Canada

June is National Indigenous History Month, where we honour the history and importance of Indigenous Peoples in Canada. Also within this month is National Indigenous Peoples Day, which falls on June 21st.

While we shouldn’t wait until June to celebrate the many contributions of Indigenous Peoples and commemorate their legacy, the month gives us the chance to reflect and recognize the diversity of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Peoples’ history and culture.

What is National Indigenous Peoples Day?

National Indigenous History Month has been celebrated in Canada since 2009. It is a time for people across Canada to honour the history, heritage, and diversity of Indigenous Peoples, and recognize the resilience of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Peoples.

First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Peoples have strong relationships with the land that predates Canada. And their communities flourished across Turtle Island (which refers to the continent of North America) for millennia before European settlement.

Indigenous History Month provides us with the opportunity to recognize and celebrate this important history, but also to acknowledge the atrocities done to Indigenous Peoples by European settlers and the Canadian government. In addition to colonization, Indigenous Peoples were forcibly removed from their lands. And their practices, languages, and spirituality were discouraged or even prohibited. Indigenous communities have also endured modern injustices and inequalities, including long-term drinking water advisories, unequal access to healthcare and education, and residential schooling.

Given this painful history, we must all be conscious of the role we play in truth and reconciliation every day. National Indigenous History Month is a good time to reflect and learn even more ways of standing in solidarity with Indigenous Peoples.

How did Indigenous History Month and National Indigenous Peoples Day start?

The month of June was declared Indigenous History Month in 2009 thanks to the passing of a unanimous motion in the House of Commons. But before National Indigenous History Month there was National Aboriginal Day (now called National Indigenous Peoples Day), which is celebrated on June 21. This particular day in June is very important in Indigenous cultures because it is the Summer Solstice, which holds spiritual significance.

National Aborginal Day was announced in 1996 by then Governor General, Roméo LeBlanc, thanks to the hard work of Indigenous groups across Canada who had been calling for an official day to recognize Indigneous history. This includes the National Indian Brotherhood (now called the Assembly of First Nations) who called for the creation of National Aboriginal Solidarity Day in 1982. Additionally, the Sacred Assembly (a national conference of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Peoples), which requested a national holiday to celebrate the many contributions of Indigenous Peoples in 1995. And within that same year, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, which recommended a Nationals Peoples Day.

On June 21, 2017 National Aboriginal Day was renamed to National Indigenous Peoples Day.

Why do we celebrate Indigenous History Month?

Indigenous History Month is an opportunity for us all to reflect on and learn about the history of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Peoples, the land we live on, and the atrocities Indigenous Peoples have faced since the beginning of European settlement. It is a time to understand the historic and modern injustices, such as the Residential Schools program, the Sixties Scoop, and the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG). It also provides us with the opportunity to learn more about the Treaty relationships between Indigenous Peoples and the nation of Canada, and how Canada has often failed to meet these Treaty obligations.

For Indigenous Peoples, it is a time to reflect and commemorate their own histories and celebrate their continued resilience.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action

While National Indigenous History Month is a time for reflection and celebration, it is also a time for all individuals and community members to work towards meeting the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action.

These Calls to Actions address the long-term, systemic oppression of Indigenous Peoples, their cultures, and their histories. A few of the Calls to Actions include the reduction of Indigenous children in child welfare care, the inclusion of a curriculum for Indigenous languages, and the recognition of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Peoples in learning materials for New Canadians.

Influential Indigenous Leaders in Canada

Many Indigenous leaders in Canada have made history and continue to do so. National Indigenous History Month is an opportunity to learn more about Indigenous artists, writers, activists, and other leaders who have contributed so much to life in Canada.

Author, Cherie Dimaline

Cherie Dimaline is a Métis author from Ontario. Her 2017 novel The Marrow Thieves is a dystopian young adult novel that TIME magazine called one of the Best Young Adult Books of All Time.

In 2017, Dimaline won the Kirkus Prize for Young Readers and the Governor General’s Literary Award for Young People’s literature.

Learn more about Cherie Dimaline’s work.

Athlete, Jesse Cockney

Olympian Jesse Cockney is an Inuit cross country skier from the Northwest Territories. After winning three gold medals at the 2011 Canada Winter Games, he went on to place highly at both the 2014 Sochi and 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games.

Cockney began skiing when he was three and went on to build an impressive career in the sport.

Activist, Thelma Chalifoux

Born in 1929, Thelma Chalifoux was a trailblazing champion for the rights of women and Indigenous Peoples. As the first Métis woman appointed to the Senate of Canada she fought for housing for Métis Peoples and environmental legislation.

Chalifoux died in 2017, leaving behind a legacy of activism and community organizing.

Researcher, Dr. Nadine Caron

Dr. Nadine Caron, born 1970, was the first female First Nations student to graduate from the University of British Columbia Faculty of Medicine and the first female First Nations general surgeon in Canada.

As an Ojibwe woman, Caron has spent her career highlighting the needs and voices of northern, rural, and Indigenous populations in Canada that are often underserved by Canada’s medical system

What can you do to support and uplift Indigenous communities?

June is a time to learn more about Indigenous histories in your community. You can do this by learning more about the Indigenous territories you live on and acknowledging which local Indigenous languages are typically spoken in your area. You can also support Indigenous artists, writers, athletes, and leaders.

There are many ways to participate in Indigenous History Month. And the Government of Canada’s National Indigenous History Month website offers different resources to learn more about First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples.

You can also commemorate this special month by donating to the Indigenous Peoples Solidarity Fund. Your donation will support Indigenous-led programs and services that foster growth, healing, and truth and reconciliation. Eighty-four percent of Canadians believe they play a role in reconciliation. Start playing your role by making a donation and standing in solidarity today.

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