Celebration and frustration reign in equal measure on today’s National Aboriginal Day in Canada.
Earlier this month, on June 11, was the fifth anniversary of the landmark apology from Prime Minister Stephen Harper to aboriginals for the residential schools system and the damage it wrought.
It is also the 250th anniversary of the Royal Proclamation of 1763, which King George III issued to administer the Norther American territories that France ceded to Britain after the Seven Years’ War. Known as the Indian Magna Carta, or Indian Bill of Rights, the document was the first one to spell out and cement treaty relationships and obligations and the Crown.
“June 21 marks a critical time for First Nations in this country—a time of growing momentum toward the transformative change required for our peoples today, not tomorrow,” said Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo in a statement. “This is a critical moment, where the needs and opportunities are far too great not to act. Now is the time for action to match words. First Nations cannot and will not wait, and we must see concrete action by governments to support our efforts.”
In Ottawa, First Nations groups protested on Parliament Hill, while New Democratic Party leader Tom Mulcair predicted a “hot summer” of discontent among the nation’s aboriginals as frustration on the lack of progress in relations boils over.
"I can tell from having talked to hundreds of representatives of First Nations that that frustration is palpable, it's growing, especially amongst the young people," he told the Canadian Press on Friday June 21. "We're going to see a lot of activity on this file during the summer. ... I'm quite concerned that it will be a hot summer on the native file across Canada, on the aboriginal file. Mr. Harper's going to have only himself to blame."
It is also a day of celebration, as Aboriginal Awareness Month winds down in the week leading up to Canada Day, which is July 1. The parties and performances kick into high gear throughout the weekend, headlined by the Aboriginal People’s Television Network (APTN)’s live, free concerts being held in both Winnipeg, Manitoba and Iqaluit, Nunavut. Performers include the youth troupe Artcirq and an array of musicians. There are also booths of artisan work and many other events designed to bring cultures together. For more information on events in both cities, click here.