National Indigenous People’s Day: Responsibility, Accountability, Opportunity

Tuesday, June 21 is National Indigenous People’s Day. It is an opportunity for all Canadians to reflect, learn, support, and participate in celebrations of Indigenous culture in our communities.

We have all been witness to the findings of unmarked potential graves of children who were forced to attend residential schools. Over 8000 unmarked graves have been located; the media has used the word “discovered” but Indigenous communities have always known they were there.

It is important to make that distinction. And it is important to bear witness to the legacy of forced assimilation. And it is important for all of us to take the time to reflect on what has been done to the Indigenous children, families, and communities of Canada and what is still being done.

The Indian Act is still in effect. Families are still being separated. Discrimination and prejudice still exist. At the same time, it is easier than ever to experience and enjoy Indigenous art and culture. There are Indigenous books to read, Indigenous stores to shop at, and Indigenous music to listen to.

National Indigenous People’s Day is an invitation and opportunity to think about and act upon the responsibilities we have.

Your responsibility…

First, it is our collective responsibility to have honest conversations with ourselves—to examine how privilege and power show up in our lives and how we utilize that power and privilege to help others and to hold people up. What barriers do Indigenous families or communities face that we might take for granted? What issues are most important to us? Whose stories inform our way of thinking?

Second, be accountable. Be accountable with your words, your thoughts, and your actions. It can be easy to identify how others need to change but harder to see our own flaws and prejudices and biases. Encourage others, ask for help, and admit when you slip up (we all slip up). Support those around you and let them support you as well. It is important that we do the work of reconciliation together—that we hold each other up.

Don’t know where to start? Here are some ideas for you:

Please don’t look away from the news or turn the TV off or put down the paper. Indigenous people have been unable to look away from these tragedies for centuries; they had to watch their kids get taken to residential schools. These are uncomfortable truths. You are going to have to feel uncomfortable.

Seek out the truth—the REAL truth. Dig a little deeper into your knowledge of Indigenous people in your community. Think about the “systems” and “laws” and “policies” directed at Indigenous peoples and communities. Are those services adequate, funded appropriately, and accessible? Do other systems treat Indigenous and non-Indigenous people the same?

Explore new ways of thinking and learn about Indigenous worldviews. How do different Indigenous communities think about parenting or the seasons? What do concepts like justice or history or storytelling look like from a different perspective? Suppressing Indigenous ways of knowing helped Canada’s colonial systems maintain power and control over Indigenous people. But learning about Indigenous worldviews lets you understand what it is like to be Indigenous in Canada AND helps bring back a little of what was lost.

What to do

National Indigenous People’s Day is also a celebration of Indigenous culture and there are lots of ways to participate and enjoy the celebrations in your community.

Indigenous Tourism BC has a growing list of events that are happening and there are many celebrations happening in local communities. Grab a bannock, listen to the drumming and singing and watch the dancing! (You can also learn about the Indigenous nations in the area you reside and the traditional names of those nations.)

If you are in the lower mainland, the Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver has an exhibit called In a Different Light: Reflecting on Northwest Coast Art. Or, if you just want to chill out, relax and watch TV, check out CBC. There are a number of Indigenous movies, documentaries and short stories available to either download or watch. Future History is an excellent new show streaming on CBC. Reel Injun: On the Trail of the Hollywood Indian explores the portrayal of North American Natives through a century of cinema.

Whatever you do, you are encouraged to use National Indigenous Peoples Day as an opportunity to celebrate Indigenous resiliency, art, achievements, and diversity through a lens of truth and reconciliation!

Riley McKenzie, Indigenous Advisor

Rebecca Lang, Associate Executive Director