Why do we celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21?

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(Note: At the NAD 2017 ceremonies in Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that National Aboriginal Day will be officially renamed National Indigenous Peoples Day. The story here: Renaming National Aboriginal Day sparks dialogue on importance of language, Gabrielle Marchand, CTV News)

June 21 is the arrival of the summer solstice and the longest day of the year. This date is also culturally and historically significant for many cultures of the world, particularly the Indigenous Peoples. Many Indigenous societies throughout history gather on this date to conduct traditional rituals of prayer, thanksgiving and celebration. This is why proponents of the event found June 21 an ideal day to “recognize and celebrate the unique heritage, diverse cultures and outstanding contributions of First Nations, Inuit, and Metis peoples” (About National Aboriginal Day).

The proclamation declaring June 21 of every year as National Aboriginal Day (now National Indigenous Peoples Day) was signed on June 13, 1996.

Why do we celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day?

The Indigenous Peoples are the first inhabitants of “Turtle Island”, the name they used to refer to North America. As the original owners of the land, they deserve great respect and recognition. So on this day, we celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ achievements and recognize their significant contributions to Canadian society. Aside from this, the day was instituted as a national holiday to showcase and learn more about the diverse and colourful cultures of Indigenous groups. Although they have many similarities, each group has its own distinct heritage, language, cultural practices and spiritual beliefs.

National Indigenous Peoples Day is part of the Celebrate Canada Program together with Saint-Jean Baptiste Day (June 24), Canadian Multiculturalism Day (June 27) and Canada Day (July 1).

Is it a statutory holiday?

National Indigenous Peoples Day is a paid holiday in the Northwest Territories with a few exceptions (those in the Northwest Territories Teachers’ Association are not included). Yukon observed it as an official statutory holiday starting last year. It is not a statutory holiday for the rest of Canada.

How do we celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day?

In Manitoba, this year’s celebration will be filled with musical and dance performances showcasing award-winning talents from across the nation. A free Summer Solstice Concert at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights will be held on June 21. Indigenous Day Live will be held at the Forks on June 23. Round dances, pow-wow, traditional storytelling, various performing arts, capped by a fireworks display are in store for everyone attending the event.

For a complete list of activities all over the country, check this link: National Indigenous Peoples Day celebrations.

Manitoban newcomers will find many opportunities to participate in the celebrations and discover various aspects of Indigenous culture on National Indigenous Peoples Day. It is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate with our Indigenous brothers and sisters and learn more about how they have enriched and continue to enrich Canada’s multicultural landscape.

Sources: About National Aboriginal Day, Indigenous and National Affairs Canada; National Aboriginal Day in Canada, Timeanddate.com. Accessed on June 6, 2017, revised June 21, 2018.

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