Shanice Perrot is a student in the Children, Childhood and Youth BA program in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies. She is currently the Student Success Mentor at the Center for Indigenous Student Services. Perrot is Nehiyaw (Cree) from Frog Lake First Nations. She wrote the following reflection about the significance of National Indigenous History Month and National Indigenous People’s Day.
National Indigenous Peoples Day falls on the summer solstice (June 21), which is the longest day of the year. It is a day of significance, as Indigenous Peoples and communities have honoured their cultures and histories on the summer solstice for generations. Indigenous Peoples invite all non-Indigenous Canadians to participate in the festivities.
“National Indigenous Peoples Day and National Indigenous History Month is an opportunity to engage with the Indigenous knowledges, languages, practices and ways of being that Indigenous people bring to York and their importance to Canadian society,” said Faculty of Education Professor Susan Dion, associate vice-president Indigenous Initiatives. The Indigenous Initiatives department was established in 2021 to advance Indigenous Initiatives across York. The department focuses on Indigenous community relationships, supporting Indigenous students, staff and faculty, cultivating Indigenous knowledges and languages and ensuring that Indigenous presence is felt, lived and actively respected.
What is National Indigenous Peoples Day?
In 1996, the governor general of Canada, Roméo LeBlanc, declared that June 21 be designated as National Aboriginal Day by the federal government. This name was changed to “National Indigenous Peoples Day” in 2017 by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
National Indigenous Peoples Day is an official day of celebration to recognize and honour the First Nations, Inuit and Métis people. It is significant because it is a day of celebration of Indigenous resilience and the preservation, and restoration of Indigenous cultures. The day is marked by ceremonies and celebrations that showcase cultural performances and activities. There are also displays of Indigenous arts and crafts along with other kinds of events to recognize the valuable contributions of Indigenous Peoples in Canada.
What is National Indigenous History Month?
National Indigenous History Month provides opportunities to learn from and with Indigenous Peoples and histories including, the legacies of residential schools, and the Sixties Scoop. Participating in the workshops, events, panel discussions and webinars during Indigenous history month is an act in support of new and better relationships. Through immersion into the vibrant histories, cultures and traditions of First Nations, Inuit and Métis people, one can recognize how these First Nations contribute to the diversity and add to the richness of cultures within Canada.
Learning about residential schools, treaties and Indigenous Peoples’ historical and contemporary contributions to Canada builds capacity for intercultural understanding, empathy and mutual respect. It provides a space for understanding how race and racism affected the lived experiences of Indigenous Peoples. Indigenous History Month is important because it encourages people to go beyond the superficial multicultural approach of celebrating differences with song, dance and food.
The month of June is an important time for learning about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action and the United Nations Declaration for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. These documents provide an ethical standard for equity. Reconciliation requires a new vision based on a commitment to recognize and respect the rights and freedoms of Indigenous people. Education on the colonial impacts of Indigenous Peoples can be used as an instrument for transformation and creating a new path forward; one of respect, love, humility, wisdom and truth.
Learning and participating in National Indigenous History Month events is an important step in recognizing the history between Indigenous Peoples and non-Indigenous Canadians and the important steps that must be taken together towards creating a different future. Education is the key to reconciliation and increasing the awareness of this history is a necessary course of action that each of us has a role to play.
For more information on events happening at York during Indigenous History Month visit https://www.yorku.ca/about/indigenous-history-month/.
Article originally published in the June 17, 2022 issue of Yfile