Posted on: June 21, 2017
June 21, 2017 marks the 21st anniversary of National Aboriginal Day since it was officially proclaimed in 1996 by Canadian Governor General Roméo Leblanc.
And with that in mind, we posed the following question to a few people in the TRU Aboriginal community.
What Does Aboriginal Day Mean to You?
For TRU Elder Margaret Vickers Hyslop, the day is a reminder that the real story of Canada’s first peoples is still missing from most of Canada’s history books and isn’t found in most school curriculum from preschool through university. It’s also an opportunity to observe that Aboriginal people have been in Canada for thousands of years.
The recent six-year Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and its hundreds of interviews with survivors of Indian Residential Schools breathed new life to the fact that history needs to be revised. The report’s 94 calls to action provide the impetus. Justice Murray Sinclair oversaw the TRC and earlier this month, TRU recognized his efforts with an honorary degree. Watch his acceptance address.
“Aboriginal Day is an opportunity for all Canadian citizens to learn more about who we were, who we are, that we are alive and mostly well,” said Vickers Hyslop,” adding “it’s a day to remember that some of us are still willing to call ‘foreigners’ — people who arrived here in the last 500 years — our brothers and sisters. It means that we deserve respect as well as compassion for our stamina.”
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The movement toward an official day of recognition took place long before the day became official. And though June 21 hasn’t been declared a national holiday, it is a paid holiday in the Northwest Territories (though not if you’re a member of the NWT Teachers’ Association).
In 1982 The Assembly of First Nations (then known as the National Indian Brotherhood) adopted a resolution declaring June 21 as National Aboriginal Solidarity Day and in 1995, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples called for the creation of a National First Peoples Day.
Today on June 21, 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to rename National Aboriginal Day to National Indigenous Peoples Day.
Kristy Alphonse Palmantier is a recent TRU grad and was TRU Williams Lake’s Commencement valedictorian a few weeks ago. She considers the day a small step toward bigger things to come.
“I consider National Aboriginal Day as a baby step forward, for Canada, towards Truth and Reconciliation for all of Canada’s First Nations.” Watch her address
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Of all the days in the year, why was June 21 selected? The date was chosen because it falls on, or is near the summer solstice, which continues to play a significant role for many Indigenous and non-Indigenous people not only in Canada, but around the world.
Joanne Brown is TRU’s supervisor of services for Aboriginal students and has been on campus for more than 20 years, first as a student and then as a staff member.
“People are realizing that Aboriginal people can make their fair share of contributions back to society in our own unique way that hasn’t been addressed before,” Brown told the TRU Newsroom in 2014. “All those things are indigenizing academia, which in turn trickles into society. We want post-secondary institutions to be relevant, responsive, and respectful of Aboriginal people—and it’s happening, it’s happening. When I attended TRU—I graduated in 2000—there was not one Aboriginal thing on campus. And now to see the Irving K. Barber Centre… the stop signs—that makes me feel that I am important. It makes me feel like this place is receptive to me.”
She still believes those words, though has some additions for 2017.
“Aboriginal Day, for me, is a slight nod to the fact that Aboriginal people existed in this country prior to colonization. If we were to really recognize that fact, it would be a statutory holiday with monies attached similar to the Canada 150 celebrations. So many people would actually attend the celebrations and robustly take part in our shared history and the First Nations prehistory, the languages and culture.”
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Nursing faculty member Lisa Bourque Bearskin is among those on campus who infuses her coursework with intercultural understanding as a way of providing context and meaning that still proves true, even in today’s complex and global society.
For 10 years she has worked alongside a group of Indigenous women who are recognized as knowledge keepers, community leaders and grandmothers upholding traditional knowledge practices for community wellness.
Known as Women as Sinew, or WASi Communities, the group is a research support network of women from across northeastern Alberta. WASi Communities provided the inspiration for Bourque Bearskin’s latest research project, “Indigenous Wellness Knowledge in Action: Evaluation of Research Protocol, Processes, Principles in Practice.”
“(National Aboriginal Day) is an opportunity to celebrate Indigenous knowing and being and revealing our truths. #UnsettlingCanada150,” said Bourque Bearskin.
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Elder Mike Arnouse has probably delivered more than 100 blessings since accepting the invitation to be a TRU elder about eight years ago. Blessing the official opening of the Brown Family House of Learning, numerous Convocations (including four of six ceremonies two weeks ago), the opening of TRU’s community legal clinic in the Kamloops neighbourhood of Brocklehurst and today’s indigenous health research $1 million funding are just some of the events he has blessed.
Known for reminding his audiences not to forget the past and how our actions today impact tomorrow, he has spoken about climate change and how human activity is visibly affecting the earth, its waters and air.
He reminds us that so-called “old ways” have not died off, are thriving and can even be found in use in non-Indigenous society.
“(The day) it’s about the original people and their land and what they’ve contributed, not just to Kamloops and BC, but the world. It’s about the food, medicine, art, ceremony—even some aspects of government have been copied. It’s about our knowledge of taking care of our home, which is Mother Earth. We’re only as healthy as our mother.”
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Second-year law student Charlotte Munroe represents the hope for a better tomorrow and is among the catalysts to make it happen.
She holds an undergrad in psychology and anthropology from TRU and has always been interested in Indigenous and settler relations within Canada and Indigenous relationships between space and place. She will spend the summer working as a research assistant to Nicole Schabus, assistant professor in the Faculty of Law.
“(National Aboriginal Day) is significant on so many fronts. It’s a day of celebration and acknowledgement towards the many diverse Indigenous groups of this country and throughout the world,” said Munroe, adding, “It’s also a day of reconciliation where non-Indigenous and Indigenous people can take action by coming together with mutual respect to recognize the beauty and continued contributions of Indigenous peoples towards Turtle Island and to take pride.”
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We give the closing remark to Paul Michel, TRU’s director of Aboriginal education, who joined TRU in December 2014 after working at the University of Northern British Columbia as its First Nations director and adjunct professor in First Nations studies.
Among other things, he said,“It’s a day of celebration that honours First Nations, Inuit and Metis and also the Indigenous peoples of the world… Today is a day of celebration and we have to strengthen our partnerships and that way we can make it a better Canada.”