Canada’s government and the country’s aboriginals have been at odds of late over a number of issues. But for many, June 21 was a day to set aside these differences and celebrate the heritage and cultural contributions of First Nations, Inuit and Métis to the country.
The country erupted in pow wows, music festivals and, yes, activism on this 15th observation of National Aboriginal Day, which kicks off the 10 days leading to Canada Day on July 1. That includes Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day on June 24 and Multiculturalism Day on the 27th, according to the Canadian ministry of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (soon to be renamed Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development), which calls it “an opportunity to honor the heritage, contribution and cultures of Aboriginal peoples in Canada.”
Robert Doucette of the Métis Nation told CTV why the day is important: "It's like a family day for everybody, not only Metis and First Nations, but it's a day when all cultures can come together and embrace the rich history of Metis and First Nations," he said.
The partying started over the previous weekend. The AFN threw a Summer Solstice Aboriginal Arts Festival in Ottawa from June 17–19 and held a roundtable discussion with indigenous artists on First Nations citizenship on June 20. On June 21 it hosted a reception for Members of Parliament and First Nations students. The Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) put on the Aboriginal Day Live & Festival on June 18.
Of course, it’s also a spiritual day too, the solstice, marking the longest day of the year. In Hollinger Park in Timmins about two dozen people gathered at the pavilion just after 5 a.m. for a sunrise ceremony welcoming the solstice, according to the Timmins Times.
And it was also a day of national awareness, with aboriginal leaders calling for concrete action to help pull this segment out of poverty and ill health.
“I wish First Nations and all Canadians a peaceful and happy National Aboriginal Day and encourage all to take part in events taking place across the country,” said Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo in a statement. “I encourage everyone to get out and enjoy Indigenous cultural events today and throughout Aboriginal History Month (June) and learn more about Canada's national history. With increased awareness and understanding we can rebuild relationships and continue steps toward true reconciliation.”
Calgary is taking the week to teach its citizens about the Alberta city’s aboriginal heritage, according to Openfile.com, a local news site.
Up north, the Inuit celebrated with a feast and some awards.
“This is a day to celebrate our culture with each other and with our fellow Canadians,” said Mary Simon, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), in a statement. “From drum dancing and throat singing, to string games, to doing the knuckle jump, the two foot high kick, or playing the accordion, there are many ways to share in our culture, language, and traditions. Inuit are online and taking the stage across the country."