Gabriel Dumont Institue

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National Indigenous Peoples Day

By Karon Shmon

Jun 3, 2021

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Photo by George Gingras © Gabriel Dumont Institute

June 21, 2021, marks the 25th anniversary of Canada’s national celebration of the heritage, diverse cultures, and outstanding achievements of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples. While having such a day designated for this purpose is a forward move, this year we add our grief to the day, after the discovery of the bodies of 215 Indigenous children at the site of the Kamloops Indian Residential School that began operations in 1890 and finally closed in 1978.

National Indigenous Peoples Day is usually a “feel good” day. It should be, especially when we think of the resiliency of our ancestors and the indomitable spirit of Indigenous Peoples who have survived and maintained our cultures and traditions in spite of the crushing attempts to make us assimilate and to extinguish our indigeneity. We also celebrate the growing recognition by non-Indigenous Canadians of our contributions and the beauty in the ways we express our cultural identities. We celebrate the growing prosperity of Indigenous peoples in spite of there being so far yet to go to meet the socio-economic status of the average Canadian. We celebrate the revitalization of our languages, especially Michif, our own language so critically endangered.  We celebrate achievements like the Gabriel Dumont Institute and the other Indigenous Peoples cultural and educational institutes. Increasingly, all levels of government are recognizing our inherent rights. Land claims are in negotiation across the nation. Métis flags and treaty flags fly in places where we previously saw only Canadian or British flags. Our governments are on their way to achieving self-governance.

Still, with so much to celebrate, our hearts are heavy. We carry the weight of the impact of residential and day schools on generations of our families. We carry the weight of being landless and of having our families and communities dispersed and relegated to poverty. We carry the weight of knowing clean drinking water is only a priority for some communities. We carry the weight that so many Indigenous women and girls are missing and murdered. We carry the weight that many of our people live with such despair that suicide seems like the only way to escape.

Can I celebrate June 21st? Will I celebrate June 21st? Yes to both. I honour those who came before us. They had a much more difficult struggle than we can imagine. I will celebrate as a way to thank them for their sacrifice and for their efforts to ensure we survive. This I can celebrate.

Background on National Indigenous Peoples Day:

https://www.rcaanc-cirnac.gc.ca/eng/1100100013248/1534872397533

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Gabriel Dumont Institue

GDI is a Saskatchewan-based educational, employment and cultural institute serving Métis across the province

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