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Celebrating National Indigenous Peoples Day

June 21 is National Indigenous Peoples Day, an official day of celebration to recognize and honour the achievements, history, and rich cultures of Indigenous Peoples in Canada. On this day, it is important to remember that there are 1.7 million Indigenous people throughout Canada who hold many unique cultures and traditions across three distinct heritage groups: First Nations, Inuit and Métis.

Geraldine Henry, Member Services Representative at Coast Capital’s Central Saanich branch, shares what National Indigenous Peoples Day means to her and her familyin her own words:

As an Indigenous person that lives in the traditional territory of the WSÁNEĆ peoples, currently known as the Saanich Peninsula, and as a member of the Pauquachin First Nation, I see National Indigenous Peoples Day as a celebration of who we are—a celebration of the richness of Indigenous culture.

On Red Dress Day and Orange Shirt Day, we remember and acknowledge the horrors that have happened to Indigenous Peoples in Canada. On this day, we celebrate our culture, our language and our connection to the land.

Across the country, we mark the day with ceremonies and celebrations that highlight cultural performances and activities, displays of arts and crafts, and events that recognize the contributions of Indigenous people.

Reconnecting with our identities.

National Indigenous Peoples Day is also a day when the Indigenous community celebrates the steps we are taking to grow and reconnect with important parts of our identities.

A good example is my daughter, Grace. Grace is 13 and has been attending ȽÁU, WELṈEW̱ Tribal School. The school runs a SENĆOŦEN immersion program, which means Grace is a fluent speaker of our traditional SENĆOŦEN language. When she comes home from school, she is so proud to share with us the things she has learned and chatters away in SENĆOŦEN with her friends and still-fluent elders.

In our community, our biggest fear has been losing our language, and with that, such an important part of our identity.

These fluent young speakers are so precious because we know that they will keep our language and protocols alive. And though it may feel like a weight on their young shoulders, I can see Grace’s confidence growing.

In Grace’s school, they follow traditional protocols and the community is inviting them more and more to say prayers and share songs—things that would have been asked of older speakers in the past. Though she was shy at first, it makes me so proud to see her step into that role and become confident in it, while strengthening the whole community’s sense of self.

I am not a speaker, but hearing Grace speak our traditional language is powerful and feels like an awakening. It fills a hole that many feel in their hearts with happiness and healing. This is what we call ‘Medicine.’ Words can be medicine.

Inviting non-Indigenous people to celebrate.

I believe National Indigenous Peoples Day is a good day to connect with your local Indigenous community. This doesn’t mean you just walk up to your closest Indigenous community uninvited.

Our way is to invite people and be welcoming, so check out your local community event listings and see if they have celebrations. Many schools have activities, too.

I would advise everyone to join an activity if they can. Go with an open mind and an open heart, experience how our communities live and thrive, and take it all in. Even if it is just for five minutes.

If you cannot join a celebration, you can explore many online resources that show the beauty of our culture, songs, and dance.


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