Friday, June 24, 2016

30 Things I Love About Canada #18: National Aboriginal Day

Canada is not without its own dark past. This is a land of immigrants too, after all, which means certain cultures moved in and displaced the people who were already here. Recently, Canada hast been trying to make up for past injustices.

For one, no one calls these people Indians anymore. The U.S. has also ditched this misleading description in favor of the term Native Americans which is still not the best term since these people were living on the land long before Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci sailed around the southern part of the continent. Why does he get to be part of their identity? The term Aboriginal makes more sense, as it means "having existed in a region from the beginning." In Canada, they are also sometimes referred to as Indigenous people and are made up of 3 groups: the First Nations, Inuit and M├ętis peoples.

Agreeing on proper terminology is the first step. Acknowledging past injustices and addressing present-day ramifications is the next step, and Canada seems to be doing this. In 1996, the Canadian government established June 21 as National Aboriginal Day, an annual holiday marked by festivals, cultural events, and awareness campaigns. The U.S. has no such holiday (Thanksgiving doesn't count), although Seattle (yay!) did officially rename Columbus Day as Indigenous People's Day. 

On Monday, the news showed prime minister Justin Trudeau wearing his father's old buckskin coat (his dad was once the prime minister too) as he attended a sunrise smudging ceremony and paddled a canoe on the Ottawa river.

Photo by Chris Wattie via Toronto Star

He issued this statement: “Coast to coast to coast, their remarkable art and cultures, significant contributions and history, are essential to our sense of nationhood.” He pledged that the Canadian government would “better support the well-being of children and families, improve the quality of education for indigenous students, and ensure health services meet the needs of indigenous communities.”

In an effort to raise awareness, Historica Canada, an organization dedicated to enhancing awareness of Canadian history and citizenship, created this short and powerful Heritage Minute about the horrific treatment of Indigenous children in residential schools. (A friend of ours worked on the production of this film.) Warning: It will make you sad.


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