Canada marks the 22nd National Indigenous Peoples Day on Thursday, with celebrations taking place across the country.
The holiday, which began in 1996 and was originally called National Aboriginal Day, is meant to recognize and highlight the culture and diversity of First Nations, Inuit and Metis communities. It is held on June 21 each year and coincides with the first day of summer.
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University of Toronto professor Jeffrey Ansloos, who is a member of the Fisher River Cree Nation, told Global News that the holiday offers a chance for all Canadians to experience Indigenous culture beyond headlines and textbooks.
“People around us are asking questions and are curious about Indigenous experiences, and wanting to understand not only the critical social issues that Indigenous Peoples face, but also the strength and resilience, and the incredible brilliance of Indigenous Peoples,” he said.
How to celebrate
The holiday is typically marked by festivals, traditional dances, singing, pow-wows, storytelling and more.
And like all celebrations, there is special food, such as bannock and moose stew.
Many events are taking place in Ottawa and around the country on the day of the holiday, but the weekend’s celebrations are also expected to draw big crowds.
APTN’s Indigenous Day Live (IDL) on June 23 will feature live celebrations and performances in Winnipeg, Toronto and Ottawa.
IDL 2018 will feature elements of the arts and culture community throughout the nation. A fusion of music and dance genres, languages, styles and interdisciplinary arts from the First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples will come together on stage.
Kardinal Offishall, Walk Off the Earth, Shawnee, Lido Pimienta, Ria Mae, Sister Says, William Prince, Tom Wilson, Brooke Simpson, Logan Staats, Kelly Fraser, and Oh My Darling are just a handful of the many artists on this year’s lineup.
Those celebrating can share their experiences online with the hashtag #NIPDCanada.
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An opportunity for learning
But beyond celebrations, National Indigenous Peoples Day is an opportunity for all Canadians to learn about culture and history.
Many events, while offering entertainment, will also feature educational experiences that allow people to learn about Indigenous values, beliefs, languages and customs.
Ansloos added that many people learn about Indigenous relations in schools, but informal learning spaces are important as well.
“Learn about the cities you live in, learn about the towns and communities that you’re often living within or upon or in close proximity to,” he said.
A national holiday?
National Indigenous Peoples Day is not a national holiday in Canada, but it is a paid holiday for those in Yukon and the Northwest Territories.
There has been a push to have it designated a national statutory holiday with a private member’s bill put forth in the House of Commons by NDP MP Georgina Jolibois.
The bill had its second reading in March.
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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday in the House of Commons they are looking very closely at the bill, and a decision will be made in consultation with Indigenous communities.
Making it a statutory holiday is about more than giving Indigenous communities time off to celebrate, Ansloos said.
“I think, quite important culturally, it signals a movement away from merely centering European, Christian holidays,” he noted.
“I think in a pluralistic, multicultural society, I think we need to be making important decisions signalling the inclusion of all people.”
Ansloos said it would recognize that Canada is a shared space with Indigenous nations.
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Politicians on National Indigenous Peoples Day
Trudeau marked the holiday by releasing a statement on Thursday morning.
“As we celebrate Indigenous cultures and communities, we also acknowledge the oppression and discrimination Indigenous Peoples have experienced for centuries. Canada cannot move forward if Indigenous Peoples continue to be held back,” he said.
A similar sentiment was echoed by a statement released on behalf of the Commission of Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
It added that Canadians should take time to reflect today about the challenges faced by Indigenous communities, especially women, girls and members of the LGBTQ+ community.
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What to remember
As Canadians from all backgrounds mark the holiday, it’s important to keep two things in mind — how to respect Indigenous culture, and that one celebration isn’t necessarily enough to understand it.
Ansloos said that Canadians should be careful not to appropriate culture by doing things like wearing a headdress. They should also be careful not to turn Indigenous culture into a commodity, but rather try to find a deeper connection.
“It’s great to celebrate, but it’s also great for the country of Canada to deepen its understanding of what’s happening in our own country, and engage in some of the issues that Canadians directly have a responsibility to engage with.”
June is also Indigenous History Month, during which Ansloos encouraged Canadians to learn about Indigenous history, pick up books and listen to podcasts.
But the most important, he said, is going out and getting to know one another.
— With files from Global News reporter Katie Scott