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2017 National Aboriginal Day brings name changes, calls for statutory holiday

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2017 National Aboriginal Day brings name changes, calls for statutory holiday – Jun 21, 2017

Hundreds gathered at Regina’s Victoria Park Wednesday to celebrate indigenous culture and history for National Aboriginal Day.

“It’s important to create that awareness (and) help share some of our culture and our history so that newcomers and the citizens of Regina and other places that are celebrating today can understand some of the unique aspects of our culture and our languages,” said Edmund Bellegarde, the Tribal Chief of File Hills Qu’Appelle Tribal Council. “But more importantly, (recognizing) the identity and rights of our people in this nation as founding peoples of Canada.”

The event in Victoria Park was filled with traditional drumming and dancing demonstrations, speeches, buffalo hide displays and children’s activities. But most importantly, it was a learning experience.

“It’s really heartwarming, I just think it’s so beautiful,” said Norma-Jean Byrd, an Elder who led the opening prayer of the event. “And to see all the children from the schools, I think the future looks great.”

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Byrd is a residential school survivor, who believes remembering history can help strengthen ties for the future.

“I hope they take home the knowledge that they have to, and maybe look more into (the history),” she added. “Why treaties were formed, and why certain things happened.”

This year, the federal government has pledged to change the name of the day to National Indigenous Peoples Day, a move that is being applauded by many.

“The term ‘Aboriginal’, it doesn’t really recognize the distinct nationhood of our people,” said Bellegarde. “We have so many diverse tribes (across Canada), but there’s also the Metis nation and the Inuit people. So to lump as all together as Aboriginal people or as Native people, it’s not appropriate in this day and age anymore in the sense of reconciliation and moving forward. It’s all about recognition and building a positive relationship.”

Last week, Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River NDP MP Georgina Jolibois tabled Bill C-361, calling for National Aboriginal Day to be a statutory holiday. But not everyone agrees.

“I think National Aboriginal Day should be an opportunity to focus on how we can improve things in this country, but I don’t necessarily think it’s served by having a day off,” said Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall.

Regina Mayor Michael Fougere says he’s open to that discussion.

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“I think we should have that conversation,” said Mayor Fougere. “It’s an important day in our calendar every year, but it’s not just a day; it’s about how we transform our city, our country, everywhere, to understand that First Nations are so important to our culture and understanding who we are. So one day a year is good and whether it’s a national holiday, let’s have that conversation.”

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