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Celebrating National Aboriginal Day

For the week of Monday June 20, 2011

On June 21, 1996, Canada celebrated National Aboriginal Day for the first time. The Governor General, Roméo LeBlanc, dedicated this first day of summer to the celebration of the culture and heritage of Canada’s Aboriginal peoples because of its symbolic importance. The summer solstice, the longest and brightest day of the year, represents the return of warm weather, animals and plant growth, traditional ways of life and a spiritual connection with the earth.

Former Manitoba Member of Legislative Assembly and Chief Elijah Harper
© Kibae Park
Aboriginal organizations began calling for a commemorative day in 1982, when the National Indian Brotherhood (now the Assembly of First Nations) suggested June 21 as National Aboriginal Solidarity Day. Eight years later, the Quebec provincial legislature recognized that day to celebrate Aboriginal cultures. At the federal level, however, it would take much longer. So Elijah Harper, Cree politician and former chief of the Red Sucker Lake band of Manitoba, called for a Sacred Assembly. A national conference of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians for healing and reconciliation, the 1995 Sacred Assembly aimed to ensure that current (as well as past) Aboriginal cultures are recognized in Canadian life. At the same time, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples also called for a national day of recognition.

Since 1996, National Aboriginal Day has helped people throughout Canada to celebrate the ways by which more than 600 First Nation communities, Inuit, and Métis enrich Canadian culture, as well as honour the rich history of Aboriginal Peoples prior to and following the arrival of Europeans. This day has even gained the status of statutory holiday in the Northwest Territories. Event celebrations encompass oral history, music, art, and traditional games.
Logo for National Aboriginal Day / Journée Nationale des Autochtones
© Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada

Important persons, places and events related to Aboriginal history have also long been celebrated through Canada’s National Commemoration program. Ipirvik and Taqulittuq, an Inuit couple who helped with Arctic expeditions in the 1860s, were designated National Historic Persons in 1981. Chief Peguis of the Ojibwa (Saultaux) was designated a National Historic Person in 2008. He signed the Selkirk Treaty, the first treaty between a British subject and a First Nation in Rupert’s Land. Blanc-Sablon, located on Quebec's Lower North Shore, was designated a National Historic Site in 2007 due to its rich archaeological heritage. Huron-Petun chief, Kondiaronk, and his role in the Treaty of Montréal 1701 were designated in 2001 for bringing peace to New France and more than forty Aboriginal tribes. Furthermore, the Government of Canada declared June to be Aboriginal History Month in 2009.

For more information about Ipirvik and Taqulittuq, Chief Peguis, Kondiaronk, the Treaty of Montréal 1701 and Aboriginal History Month, please read Ipirvik and Taqulittuq, Chief Peguis: A Friend to the Selkirk Settlement, Kondiaronk's Tree of Peace and Aboriginal History Month in the This Week in History archives.
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