National Aboriginal Day 2012: Much to celebrate but also much to protest!

June 21st, a day set aside to celebrate the aboriginal peoples of this land. For many aboriginal people and their governments and organizations, this is a statutory holiday so their staff can participate in the many celebrations that go on around the province.

Governor General Romeo LeBlanc in 1996 through proclamation established National Aboriginal day as a day to recognize the contributions Aboriginal people have had and continue to have within Canada. Since then, this day has been set aside to celebrate and recognize these contributions.

June is a month with many important occasions. The start of the summer Solstice usually happens on aboriginal day starting the beginning of the harvesting season where indigenous peoples fish, gather many food stuffs and materials. Summer is a season of much activity in indigenous communities.

On June 11, 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper delivered a court ordered apology to the First Nations in Canada for the negative impacts of the residential schools that are still affecting our communities today. It took the Prime Minister from May 2006 when the settlement was approved until June 11, 2008 to make such an apology. To be fair, the implementation date wasn’t until September 10, 2007 but such time lags indicate that Canada was not out in front making the apology as a priority as it should have been to give it greater meaning. Some people like to think of this as aboriginal day, but this day marks a day where many promises were made by the Government of Canada. To date, not many of these promised have been fulfilled, and so to me, is not a day to celebrate. June 11 is more of a reminder of what Canada has not done.

Any time we gather as indigenous peoples and sing, dance, eat and talk is a powerful time. Greeting friends and relatives, sharing cultures is a happy occasion. Aboriginal Day is a day to share our culture with people who are not indigenous and take the time to educate them about who we are as a people, what our history is, and explain our songs, dances and regalia and the need to put much effort into making our languages flourish again. If you can take time to share in any of the celebrations, I would encourage you to do so. Many financial institutions, businesses and governments that work with indigenous peoples often sponsor events within their offices to continue to provide cross cultural training to their employees to better understand the indigenous way of life. I applaud these organizations that make the effort to make the most of National Aboriginal Day.

Today is a day to celebrate the survival, milestones and triumphs of our people. Nothing comes easy for indigenous peoples as we often have to engage in a struggle for everything we achieve. For example, in 1982, the National Indian Brotherhood (now called the Assembly of First Nations) passed a resolution to have a day set aside to recognize Aboriginal people. In 1996, the Royal Commission on aboriginal people also made that recommendation to the government of Canada. It only took 14 years to have such a day set aside.

In the past, National Aboriginal day has been used a National Day of protest, where we had protests across the country about critical issues affecting our people. It was used as a day of informing the public that all is not right in Indian country. Today, that continues. In Vancouver, there is a protest regarding the cuts to the Cultural Connections for Aboriginal Youth (CCAY) funding by the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. The youth and their supporters are using their voices on Aboriginal day to let people know how these cuts are affecting them.

National Aboriginal Day is an important day. I think it could become even more important if the Federal, provincial and territorial governments would set a goal each year on Aboriginal Day to do something important with aboriginal people, whether it is settling an outstanding claim or issue and then celebrating the resolution of that claim or issue by the next National Aboriginal Day. Or use the day to announce a new initiative that has been developed with aboriginal people, and then celebrating the launch of that initiative and in the subsequent year, celebrate the results of that initiative. Yes, National Aboriginal Day is to celebrate the contributions of Aboriginal People within Canada but how much more powerful those contributions could be if the Federal, provincial and territorial governments were to put aboriginal issues in the forefront, resolve them and to the betterment of Canada as a whole. Pouring our collective positive energies into action instead of using that energy to fight each other at every turn would truly be a way to celebrate National Aboriginal Day.

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