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National Indigenous Day sparks conversation on racism, reconciliation in Calgary

National Indigenous Day celebrations held amid calls for change in Calgary
Calls for change have been ramping up across Alberta amid police brutality accusations and claims of systematic racism. June 21 is National Indigenous Day, and as Jessie Weisner reports from Calgary, the focus is on finding resolutions to these issues.

As Indigenous Lives Matter movements ramp up across Alberta amid police brutality accusations and claims of systemic racism, National Indigenous Day was celebrated across Canada Sunday, with finding resolutions to these issues at the forefront of many conversations in Calgary.

The Calgary celebrations moved online in 2020 because of restrictions on gatherings as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Aboriginal Awareness Week Calgary (AAWC) chose to celebrate with a “virtual reading book,” posting videos on social media throughout the day, including a pipe ceremony from Blackfoot Elder Camille (Pablo) Russell Jr, multiple traditional music performances, and social distancing powwow dancers.

Celebrations also sparked conversations about systemic racism towards Indigenous people in Alberta and Canada, caused by the recent outcry about police brutality across North America.

Earlier this month, a video was released showing an RCMP officer tackling Chief Allan Adam of Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation to the ground.

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“I think this is a strong indicator as to what many Indigenous peoples have suffered for decades from the RCMP,” said Josie Nepinak, executive director of the Awo Taan Healing Lodge Society.

READ MORE: Chief Allan Adam arrest: Cameras not enough to solve RCMP systemic racism, experts say

Wood Buffalo RCMP have said Adam resisted arrest and that officers were “required to use force.”

Alberta’s police watchdog has launched an investigation.

Another issue that’s top of mind for Nepinak is justice for missing and murdered Indigenous women.

“In order for you and me to grow and to develop that friendship, we must be willing to talk about those issues in a good way, so that we can move forward together because as Indigenous, we are not going away,” said Nepinak.

RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki has acknowledged systemic racism was a part of every institution, including the RCMP. She said the force has “not always treated racialized and Indigenous people fairly.”

The 2020 celebrations included Inuit and Metis categories, focusing on the community within Treaty 7 territory.

“The goal is to actually highlight the community of Calgary or ‘Mohkinstsis,’ is what we call it. So we really opened this up to the community, stating that we are treaty people here it doesn’t matter where you’re from,” said Marilyn North Peigan, entertainment executive for AAWC.

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“Aboriginal Awareness Week Calgary” has chosen the theme of “Keeping the circle strong through mother earth’s future generations” for 2020, to celebrate Treaty 7 territory and bridge the gap between all people who live on the land.

READ MORE: Calgary city council unanimously passes anti-racism motion

“This just reflects the pride of our First Nations, Metis and Inuit communities, and how much pride they have in their rich heritage tradition and their cultures. So we want to reflect that but also to get that message out that Calgary is a community,” said North Peigan.

North-Peigan added that a stronger sense of community and understanding is where reconciliation begins.

“We are on the right track. We just have to listen to everybody else, all the people who have been suffering the last few weeks and get an understanding of where they’re coming from. So we need to continue on with that truth within the community,” North Peigan said.