How and when Canada created National Indigenous Peoples Day

National Indigenous Peoples Day is taking place on Monday, June 21. National Indigenous Peoples Day is a day recognizing and celebrating the cultures and contributions of the First Nations, Inuit and Métis Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island, also known as Canada.

This day is a statutory territorial holiday in the Northwest Territories, established in 2001, to honour and acknowledge its Dene, Métis and Inuvialuit peoples. National Indigenous Peoples Day also became a statutory territorial holiday in the Yukon in May 2017. This National Indigenous Peoples Day is the 25th anniversary of celebrating the heritage, diverse cultures and outstanding achievements of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.

The Canadian Encyclopedia says in 1982, the National Indian Brotherhood (now the Assembly of First Nations) first suggested establishing “National Aboriginal Solidarity Day” as a day of recognition. In 1990, Quebec became the first province or territory to establish June 21 as a day to celebrate Indigenous culture.

Tensions between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in 1990 regarding the Oka Crisis, and in 1995 regarding the Ipperwash Crisis, led to renewed calls for a national day of recognition. The Sacred Assembly, a national meeting of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal spiritual leaders organized by Elijah Harper in 1995, encouraged the federal government to establish “National First Peoples Day” as a day of unity and acknowledgment. The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples also recommended establishing a national day of recognition in their report, released in 1996.

On June 13, 1996, Governor General Roméo LeBlanc announced the government’s intention to have an annual, national celebration of Indigenous peoples. Later that month, on the 21st, Canada celebrated its first National Aboriginal Day.

The Canadian Encyclopedia also says in 2009, the House of Commons unanimously passed a motion to make the month of June National Aboriginal History Month (now National Indigenous History Month). This month-long awareness campaign highlights Indigenous history and cultures as well as contemporary issues in Indigenous communities across the country.

On June 21, 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced plans to change the name of National Aboriginal Day to National Indigenous Peoples Day, reflecting a national and international preference for the term Indigenous, rather than Aboriginal, in most cases. Some people, especially those in Indigenous communities, have called on the federal government to make National Indigenous Peoples Day a statutory holiday.

Action #80 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report calls on the federal government to establish a statutory holiday — National Day for Truth and Reconciliation — to recognize the dark legacy of residential schools and to honour the survivors.

Due to the seriousness of the COVID-19 crisis, the Government of Canada invites Canadians to commemorate this year’s National Indigenous History Month and National Indigenous Peoples Day from home. “Keep yourself, your family and your community safe by following instructions from health officials and other trusted, reliable sources,” states the Government of Canada’s website.

Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, shared in a video for last year’s National Indigenous Peoples Day that is a day to recognize and honour the achievements, history and rich cultures of Indigenous peoples throughout Canada:

“It is only through learning and understanding the history of Indigenous peoples in Canada, that we will be able to move forward in true partnership to build a better Canada. We draw inspiration from the work of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples and communities who are leading us forward to bring about change. We encourage all people in Canada to take this opportunity to learn more about Indigenous communities through the compelling stories of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.

“All Canadians need to learn about the perseverance and resilience of Indigenous peoples and the importance of protecting Indigenous knowledge and revitalizing their languages and cultures. We can all learn more about the many cultures and unique heritage and outstanding contributions of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples by reading books from the Indigenous Reads reading list or screening a film by an Indigenous creator.

“Today, as we commit to building back better after Covid-19 socially, economically and environmentally, we will need more than ever the leadership of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. Today, Canada and all Canadians recommit to working to build a new relationship with First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples based on respect, partnership and recognition of rights.

“This year we are taking part in National Indigenous Peoples Day celebrations together while apart. I wish you all a very happy National Indigenous Peoples Day.”

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