It all started in 1982 when the National Indian Brotherhood wanted June 21 as a National Aboriginal Solidarity Day. The reason for this day is it falls on summer solstice. It’s pretty cool that we get the longest day out of the year to celebrate our heritage. But National Aboriginal Day didn’t officially start in 1982. It went through some growing pains. But Quebec led the way. In 1990 the province recognized June 21 as a day to celebrate Aboriginal culture.
Later the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, along with Elijah Harper (who chaired the Sacred Assembly), recommended June 21 in 1995. It wasn’t until 1996 that the day became official throughout Canada by a declaration by then Governor-General Romeo LeBlanc.
Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson said: “It is an opportunity for all of us to celebrate our respect and admiration for First Nations, for Inuit, for Métis — for the past, the present and the future.”
Unfortunately, it is one of the most underfunded of the holidays that celebrate Canada’s rich heritage. St. Jean Baptiste is a huge celebration, as is Canada Day.
But this year’s National Aboriginal Day is something special. It is the last year of the International Decade of Indigenous Peoples.
When the decade was created the Aboriginal People got a permanent forum at the United Nation, the body that announced our decade back in December 1994. “The Permanent Forum,” said Mary Robinson, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, “promises to give indigenous peoples a unique voice within the United Nations system, commensurate with the unique problems which many indigenous people still face, but also with the unique contribution they make to the human rights dialogue.”
That’s quite a mouthful but it meant Aboriginal Peoples would finally have some way to talk at the international level. We’ve come quite a way from the days when it was illegal for Aboriginal people in Canada to fundraise for court cases.
The United Nations General Assembly also decided that in 1994, the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People, shall be observed on August 9 of every year.
So as you can see we not only have a day in Canada but an International day also along with the last year of our decade.
The World Bank recently came to James Bay. After talking to the Crees, Quebec and Hydro-Quebec they came to some conclusions: The Cree are in control of their territory: the Cree must be included in all aspects of natural resource development in their territory: assessment, investigation, execution, and benefit; the Cree must be given the resources and opportunities to participate in a meaningful manner; and the Cree are not going anywhere.
Such thoughts would have been unthinkable to the Euro-centric thinking of even 30 years ago. It is not only thought but is understood. Now that’s something to celebrate.