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Employee voices: What is National Aboriginal Day and why it matters

June 01, 2017
Tracey King

By: Tracey King, Aboriginal Human Resources Consultant

Across Canada, the First Nations, Métis and Inuit (FNMI) peoples celebrate National Aboriginal Day on June 21 in many exciting and impactful ways. Many of us share our history, culture, language and identity with the public with an array of celebratory activities including music, drumming, singing, dance and artisans.

What is the history of National Aboriginal Day?

The Native Indian Brotherhood, renamed the Assembly of First Nations, first campaigned for National Aboriginal Solidarity Day in 1982.

In 1996, at the Sacred Assembly national conference of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples chaired by the late auspicious leader Elijah Harper, it was recommended that Canada should have a national holiday to recognize and celebrate the contributions of Aboriginal peoples.

In the same year, the Governor General of Canada Romeo LeBlanc proclaimed June 21 as National Aboriginal Day. It’s also Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year, when the sun reaches its northernmost position as viewed from earth. This is a day of cultural significance to many FNMI peoples.

Why is it important to celebrate?

Speaking as an Ojibway and Pottawatomi woman (second generation to live in Toronto), I can tell you that all Canadians need a deeper understanding of FNMI peoples for reconciliation to happen. National Aboriginal Day is an opportunity for everyone to learn about and appreciate the history, culture, language, identity, nationhood and contributions of FNMI peoples.

Smudging ceremony

In cultural teachings, we are taught that everything we do will have an impact on the next seven generations and this is why many of us are doing our part and paving the way for those to come. Our hope is that they will not experience the many barriers when it comes to accessing opportunities so that they have a better quality of life, or mino-bimaadiziwin. Mino-bimaadiziwin is the Anishinaabe word meaning how to live a good life in relationship with the total environment.

How I celebrate National Aboriginal Day

The ways I have spent National Aboriginal Day are memorable. With my people, you will hear me say “Happy National Aboriginal Day” many times at work and at our community celebratory events, which often last for two weeks in Toronto.

I love being in my community, they are my family. When I attend National Aboriginal Day events, I always have a big smile, I hug as many as possible and find out how everyone is doing. When I think of how my community has helped my family and me, I have so much to be thankful for.

This year, I’m reflecting on two examples of the support my family received from our community. First, I am thankful for Gabriel DuMont Subsidized Homes for giving my parents and I an apartment to live in, after nine months of homelessness living with family, friends and lastly in a church attic. At the time, I was 18 years old completing high school in Toronto and preparing for direct university entry.

Second, I am thankful for Anduhyaun, a Native Women’s Emergency Shelter for giving me my first career opportunity in my community in 1990. I shared my homelessness story at the job interview, which helped them understand why I really wanted to work in the shelter. This has led me to further opportunities working in Aboriginal organizations and universities.

I am proud to belong to a strong and resilient peoples

Both of these experiences helped me to where I am today, and they continue to help me in the work that I do. Relating to my clients continues to motivate me to serve them best.

I am grateful for being who I am. National Aboriginal Day is always like coming home - it gives me an opportunity to be with my community and participate in events. I am proud to belong to a strong and resilient peoples. There are so many clients and students who continue to inspire me and it makes me passionate about helping them access career opportunities.