'Much to Celebrate': 20th National Aboriginal Day Marked by Sunrise Ceremonies Across Canada

Sunrise ceremonies marked the 20th National Aboriginal Day in Canada, with much to celebrate in recent developments of reconciliation.
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From coast to coast to coast, Indigenous Peoples and provincial and federal leaders greeted the sunrise on June 21 to mark National Aboriginal Day for the 20th year.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau set the tone by participating in a sunrise and smudging ceremony on the shore of the Ottawa River, the Canadian Press reported. Then he helped paddle a canoe along with several others past the buildings of Parliament, paying homage to his father, the late former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, by wearing moccasins and a buckskin jacket that had belonged to him. The elder Trudeau had been known to wear buckskin on canoeing expeditions in his youth, the Canadian Press said.

“National Aboriginal Day is first and foremost an occasion to celebrate the fundamental role First Nations, Métis, and Inuit have played—and continue to play—in shaping the identity of all Canadians,” Trudeau said in a statement issued after the event. “Coast to coast to coast, their remarkable art and cultures, significant contributions and history, are essential to our sense of nationhood.”

Trudeau alluded to the suicide crises sweeping through indigenous communities and highlighted the need for partnership as one route to healing.

“No relationship is more important to our government and to Canada than the one with Indigenous Peoples,” Trudeau said. “Today, we reaffirm our government’s commitment to a renewed nation-to-nation relationship between Canada and Indigenous Peoples, one based on the recognition of rights, respect, trust, co-operation, and partnership.”

Indigenous leaders noted that there was much to celebrate this year in particular, while emphasizing the day’s opportunity for educating the general public about indigenous issues, culture and the ways they have helped play a role in what Canada is today.

“On the 20th anniversary of National Aboriginal Day, we are poised on a new era of reconciliation, a time to renew our original relationship of partnership, respect and sharing,” said Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Perry Bellegarde in a statement. “This is a time to be hopeful for what the future holds. A number of celebrations will be taking place across the country, and I encourage First Nations and all Canadians to participate in these events. It is an opportunity to get to know one another better. Education and awareness leads to understanding and action.”

This was echoed by AFN Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day, who also noted that after this the day may very well be renamed National Indigenous and Reconciliation Day, in line with one of the 94 recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

“National Aboriginal Day 2016 really does mark the end of an era and the beginning of a new relationship between First Nations and Canadians,” Day said in a statement from the Chiefs of Ontario. He said the TRC’s 94 Calls to Action, a political accord that the province and the Chiefs of Ontario signed last August, and the federal government’s stated goal of improving relations with Indigenous Peoples “will all play a significant role in how we celebrate June 21st in the years to come.”

Day noted that there was “much to celebrate” this year in particular, in the wake of the apology and statement of reconciliation that Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne issued on May 30.

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Then there’s also the official adoption by both Canada and Ontario of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, he said, and both governments’ stated commitments to implementing all 94 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action, from its report last year.

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“This really is a groundbreaking reason to celebrate our culture, and celebrate the serious commitment to improve socio-economic conditions for all our Peoples,” Day said of the recent developments. “Moving forward, we should not just be celebrating indigenous culture but, more importantly, educating Canadians about who we are, and how we want to secure our rightful place in this country.”