June 21, 2014 7:02 pm
Updated: June 21, 2014 8:25 pm

Aboriginal Day celebrations a reminder of struggles faced by many First Nations people


Watch above: National Aboriginal Day is an opportunity for First Nations, Metis and Inuit to celebrate their culture. In Edmonton Saturday, thousands of people took part in the festivities. But as Eric Szeto reports, it was also a reminder of the many struggles faced by aboriginal people in Canada.

EDMONTON – National Aboriginal Day was celebrated in Edmonton’s Churchill Square Saturday, but it also served as a reminder of the struggles faced by many of Canada’s Indigenous people.

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The day began with a vibrant celebration honouring the culture, language and history of Canada’s aboriginal people.

Bernadette Iahtail with the Creating Hope Society says it’s important to acknowledge and celebrate the lives of all First Nations people.

“Thirty years ago you wouldn’t see this. People speaking their language… walking around with our regalia, you wouldn’t see this unless it was hidden,” she said. “Having a pipe ceremony in the open 100 years ago, we couldn’t. That was banished.

“Everything that we’ve gone through, we’re very resilient, very strong.”

There was a bit of a sombre mood in the square, though; across the square dozens of people gathered to walk for 26-year-old Shelly Tanis Dene, a mother who was last seen in April 2013.

“Every day I wake up with Shelly in my thoughts and prayers and she’s always in my heart,” said Candice Lhommecourt. “I can’t really think negative about the situation because it’s really going to get me nowhere.”

READ MORE: Family of missing Edmonton woman organizes walk to raise awareness

According to an RCMP report released in May, a disproportionate number of female homicide victims in Canada are aboriginal.

Aboriginal women represent only 4.3 per cent of the total female population, yet 16 per cent of all female homicide victims are aboriginal.

The RCMP review looked at cases from 1980 to 2013 and found 1,181 aboriginal women fell into the missing or murdered category – almost double earlier estimates.

READ MORE: Disproportionate number of women killed in Canada aboriginal: RCMP

Kari Thomason with the Metis Child & Family Services Society says it’s incredibly important not to forget the missing and murdered.

“We are worthy people. We can’t be forgotten and we can’t forget them. We need to be able to move forward and put some solution in here and resolve a lot of this.”

But it’s events like Saturday’s that give people like Iahtail hope.

“An elder always told me, ‘If you can help one person, that ripple effect of one person will help somebody else, will help somebody else.'”

With files from Eric Szeto, Global News.

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