From Parliament Hill to the most remote community, on June 21 aboriginals and Canadians alike are celebrating the annual tribute to First Nations, Inuit and Métis, the Indigenous Peoples who inhabited the northern half of Turtle Island before Europeans ever set foot on these shores.
On this day aboriginals' role in Canada's formation and development was recognized and celebrated with festivals, concerts and plain old revelry across the land. Coinciding with the summer solstice, it started off with sunrise ceremonies in many aboriginal communities, as CBC News reported. Elder Raymond Ballantyne of the Cree and his helper Madonna O'Nabigon described their version of such a ceremony for CBC News.
The Aboriginal Peoples Television Network put on its annual day-long concert, Aboriginal Day Live & Celebration, featuring the likes of Buffy St. Marie, the hip-hop artist Samian and the folk-rock group Kashtin, the latter in a rare reunion.
Most of all it's a day to celebrate the peoples who most exemplify the spirit and value of diversity, Canada's top government officials said.
"I strongly believe that diversity is one of Canada’s greatest strengths," said Governor General David Johnston in a statement. "As the earliest Canadian settlers quickly realized, the cultures and traditions of aboriginal peoples represent a great source of learning and wisdom. Though our circumstances today have changed considerably, aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians alike continue to learn a great deal from one another. This is as it should be, because our greatest potential lies in what we have yet to learn."
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, too, weighed in. “Today we celebrate the rich and diverse culture of our country’s aboriginal peoples and reflect upon the important role they have played and continue to play in shaping modern-day Canada," he said in a statement. Noting aboriginals' contribution to the War of 1812, he added, "The enduring relationship between the Government of Canada and First Nations is one based on mutual respect, friendship and support, and we are committed to working towards deepening this bond. Our government has made strengthening this relationship a priority."
There is, of course, still a pretty big gap between aboriginal perceptions of federal attention and the federal governments'.
“June 21 has always been an important time for Indigenous Peoples in Canada. The summer solstice is a time of gathering and of celebration,” Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo said in a statement. “Today, and throughout the month of June, we see special events and gatherings from coast to coast to coast celebrating First Nation, Métis and Inuit cultures, traditions and languages. I applaud the efforts of the many First Nations leaders hosting events today and encourage everyone to get involved. These events, and our work day to day, is about much more than celebration. It’s about preserving and protecting our languages and traditions and educating all Canadians about our shared history of the many contributions of First Nations, Métis and Inuit and our priorities as we move forward.”
Atleo also used the opportunity to continue pressure to get parity for First Nations and other aboriginal issues in the government and public eye.
“We have a long way to go to achieve fairness and equity for First Nations in this country, but I do feel that change is essential and it is possible—change where First Nation rights and Treaties are respected, recognized and implemented in ways that First Nations can drive the solutions to the challenges they face, make the decisions that impact their territories and fulfill their true potential,” Atleo said.