A day of understanding

“National Aboriginal Day” is held on June 21 each year.

The date is set to allow indigenous people the opportunity to celebrate and share our unique cultures, diverse heritages and outstanding achievements within our populations with the rest of Canada.

But, indigenous people tend to call the date Solidarity Day instead. Why?

Many of us key the word aboriginal with abnormal, or unoriginal because of the way it rolls off of the tongue. And the term solidarity sums up many of the nation-wide celebrations perfectly as it means “union or fellowship arising from common responsibilities and interests, as between members of a group or between classes, peoples, etc.”

However, we don’t have just one day to do this. This day is simply the one day of the year that the rest of Canada seems to join in.

But just because Canada plays nice for one day, doesn’t mean that indigenous issues are being handled.

The colourful indigenous dancers you can encounter at an event for Solidarity Day you might think are wonderful and graceful. But, those same dancers might become a nuisance when you’re walking through a mall to find them dancing in protest. So this goes without saying that indigenous peoples do not get to be folded like a shirt and tucked away in a drawer for the rest of the year, just because of one celebrated day.

Our culture isn’t something to be performed only when it is convenient, and our issues shouldn’t be a television program you can turn off when it gets annoying.

Both our cultures and the issues we face are things that are a part of us every day — just like the societal stigmas, stereotypes and prejudices we have to carry on our backs. So, if you want to understand and admire the culture, you have to be open to understanding and admiring the struggles too.

And that is in essence, what this day should mean.

It shouldn’t just be a day to celebrate culture and have Canadians look at indigenous people saying “your culture is so beautiful” without them knowing how hard our ancestors fought to protect our individual cultures from systemic eradication.

Or how hard they fought to be recognized as human beings, which didn’t happen until 1960.

Or how much intergenerational issues and traumas our peoples are still dealing with.

Or how little is left of our cultures due to the reverberated aftermath of residential schools.

Or how very few indigenous people know their own languages because the systemic abuses within residential schools did their job of destroying or nearly destroying unique languages.

It shouldn’t have to be said that indigenous peoples can’t forget this country’s twisted history because it affects everything that we are today.

So, our responsibilities as indigenous people on Solidarity Day shouldn’t be just to put on a show for Canadians, it should also be us having our strongest voices on display and speaking for them to hear. Because even if they don’t want to hear it on the other 364 days of the year, we do have this one.

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