National Indigenous Peoples Day: Celebrating 20 Years

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June 21, 2016, is the 20th anniversary of National Indigenous Peoples Day in Canada. In 1996, then Governor General of Canada, Roméo LeBlanc, created this day to recognize and celebrate the heritage, diverse cultures, and contributions of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit. The government of Canada chose the particular date because it is the summer solstice. Many Indigenous Peoples traditionally celebrated their culture and heritage around this time of the year.

Truth and Reconciliation Through Education

Before celebrating with your learners, it’s important to understand Canada’s history with Indigenous Peoples. It is also important to know the current initiatives attempting to mend the relationships between non-Indigenous and Indigenous Peoples.

One person who has been working to share this knowledge is Charlene Bearhead. She has worked in education for the last 30 years. Recently, she worked as the education lead for the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR). She works with universities and educators across Canada and helps connect people with resources from the NCTR.

After the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in Ottawa last June, Bearhead spoke about education as an important factor in reconciliation. In a recent interview with the CBC, she shared the following comment: “Really what we’re teaching [children] is who we really are as Canadians and what our collective history is. [So] they grow up with that as a part of knowing who they are, who we are collectively, what our truth is, and what our values are now, and where we’re heading.”

Jean-Paul Restoule, Associate Professor of Aboriginal Education at OISE/University of Toronto, echoed that sentiment in a blog post last year: “Achieving genuine reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Peoples in Canada is a responsibility we all share… It starts with developing understanding and building relationships.” Restoule also quoted Governor General David Johnston’s speech at the ceremonial closing of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Johnston said, “Education – learning – offers us the best chance of finding our way out of this situation. Our hope lies in learning and an unwavering commitment to tolerance, respect, and inclusiveness in our relationships.”

Celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day

Learners of all backgrounds in Canada can celebrate and honour Indigenous Peoples today and every day. You can use this selection of events, activities, and resources to celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day at any time.

  • Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada (CIRNAC) encourages using these learning materials to celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day. They also provide other classroom resources for learning about First Nations, Métis, and Inuit cultures.
  • The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto has teaching resources at all grade levels for and about Aboriginal Education. It also offers great resources for infusing Indigenous perspectives into your teaching.
  • Historica Canada released a new Heritage Minute for National Indigenous Peoples Day. It looks at the history of the Indian Residential School system and its effects on Indigenous people.
  • Encourage learners to get involved in activities outside the classroom at local events.
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