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

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June 21 is the arrival of 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 gathered on this date to conduct traditional rituals of prayer, thanksgiving and celebration. This is why June 21 is the 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 declaration that June 21 of every year is 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,” or modern-day 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. The day was also instituted as a national holiday to showcase and celebrate the diversity of various Indigenous groups. Although they have many similarities, each group has its own distinct heritage, language, cultural practices and spiritual beliefs.

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 started observing it as an official statutory holiday in 2017. It is not a statutory holiday for the rest of Canada.

How do we celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day?

The day itself is usually celebrated with musical and dance performances, fireworks displays, free concerts and parades. Indigenous Day Live is held at the Forks and broadcast on TV and features pow-wows, traditional storytelling and various performing arts. Due to COVID-19, everyone is urged to stay home this year to stay safe. We are urged to learn more about the unique heritage, diverse cultures and outstanding contributions of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples by reading or visiting virtual exhibits at museums. (Learn about Indigenous History, Reconciliation, and celebrations online at the National Indigenous Peoples Day site).

This event 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.
 
Article updated June 21, 2021.
 
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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