Indigenous Peoples Day: more than a holiday

June 21, 2019

Indigenous Peoples Day: more than a holiday

National Indigenous Peoples Day was first recognized in 1982. The date was chosen, following consultation with Indigenous groups, because of the summer solstice – a day that is very significant to many Indigenous Peoples.

So why do Indigenous People have a day of celebration all to themselves?

This is a trick question, of course. National Indigenous Peoples Day is not just for Canada’s Indigenous population, but for all Canadians to celebrate and honour the past, present, and future. This not only emphasizes inclusion within our communities, it also reinforces recognition, awareness, and of course reconciliation.

In recent years, there has been significant effort by innumerable groups and people to shed light on the very dark history of our country and the treatment of Indigenous Peoples. Those abuses and traumas are directly linked to the challenges many Indigenous Peoples face today, and are essential for everyone to understand if we are to heal as a country, towards a truly inclusive culture. National Indigenous Peoples Day highlights and gives all of us a day dedicated to this reflection and learning.

Quick poll: who knows the meaning of the word wahkôhtowin? Have you heard it spoken before?

This word is a beautiful representation of this country’s First People’s belief process. It represents a true core understanding that many of our past leaders would have done well to heed.

Wahkôhtowin is a Cree word that roughly translates to everything is related. It is one of the basic principles of Cree Natural Law passed on from generation to generation since time immemorial. In fact, all Indigenous Peoples of North America have a similar concept: everything is interrelated. All of life, including all humans, are connected together in a complex web of relationships, and what happens to any one part of the web of life affects everything else.

Using this logic (which has basis in many non-Indigenous cultures and beliefs around the world, we might add) we can understand why things got so out of balance following the horrendous treatment of Indigenous People during the years of colonization. We can see the cause of the trauma and what thereafter created a tilt in perception that negatively branded Indigenous People for centuries, through no fault of their own. The balance and relationships were disrupted and nearly destroyed, but Canada is working towards restoring them through truth and reconciliation work.

The beginning of reconciliation is to uncover, teach, and learn about the past. When the Indian Act was created in 1867, it allowed everything from the appropriation of ancient homelands, the migration of mass peoples to distant and often non-fertile reservations, the removal of children from traditional homes, the forced conversions of religious and spiritual practices, and the introduction of foreign substances. Many non-Indigenous Canadians were and are still unaware of this history, which is why days of remembrance, and days like National Indigenous Peoples’ Day are so important to create understanding.

Although there are skeptics who believe these past injustices are ancient history and should just be left in the past, they couldn’t be more wrong. Truth and reconciliation is not just for the Indigenous People to work towards – it involves all parties, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, moving forward together to ensure a brighter future. Because in order to move forward, we must understand the errors and actions of the past and their impact on today and the future.

At NorQuest, we’ve seen the powerful impact these efforts can have. We’ve incorporated Indigenous Awareness training with several course offerings to faculty and staff, partnered with the Government of Alberta and Bow Valley College to launch the Alberta Indigenous Construction Career Centres (AICCC) that connects Indigenous workers with employers recruiting for construction related careers, and maintained supportive relationships with our Indigenous communities and Elders.

Feasts, talking circles, round dances, ceremonies, dedicated spaces, and other traditional Indigenous ways of knowing have been incorporated into our campus life, and we are building a more inclusive and richer community as a result. We are sharing these teachings and learnings with others in the hopes they will also be part of the healing and change.

Reconciliation is an absolute must if we as a nation are to fully recover and collectively use our history as a means to improve the futures of everyone. True inclusion means we all need to confront these truths, hear the stories, and work together to create the culture all Canadians deserve.

Besides, aren’t we all wahkôhtowin?

NorQuest College in Edmonton Alberta is committed to respecting the process of reconciliation. Our college is a myriad of intersecting cultures with over 100 languages spoken on campus, and 138 nations of birth, including many Indigenous languages. It is our belief that everyone has the right to quality education. Knowing that Indigenous representation at the post-secondary level is among the lowest of all demographics in Canada, and believing that education is a key to the success of not just individuals, but families and communities, we are committed to improving lives, the futures of our current and prospective students, and our country as a whole. If you would like more information about Indigenous Awareness training or opportunities for Indigenous Peoples at NorQuest, we encourage you to connect with us.