Vice-Provost Indigenous Engagement’s Statement on National Indigenous Peoples Day

Soon the longest day of the year will be upon us. Monday, June 21st is the summer solstice, and it is also National Indigenous Peoples Day.

In reflection of this important day, I am reminded of the spiritual and ceremonial significance that summer solstice has for Indigenous peoples on this continent, and I am drawn to reflecting on the expressions of self-determination, such as the Indigenous Strategy, which was created by Indigenous peoples as a gift to the University of Saskatchewan. The bold and non-apologetic process that was engaged to create the strategy is an example of right relations, of wîcihitowin (working together); it is a process that honoured First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples in ways that (re)positioned us in a place of respectful prominence and recognition as Turtle Island’s original peoples and Nations – Nations that hold and enact sophisticated and complex governance, educational, health, social and economic systems. The Indigenous Strategy is a beautiful and strong expression of self-determination by the Indigenous Peoples of this province, and it is a document that will benefit all peoples. It invites us to nīkānītān manācihitowinihk (Cree), ni manachīhitoonaan (Michif), for us to “lead with respect.”

As this day nears and comes upon us, I am also reminded of the systemic racism, oppression, and genocide that Indigenous peoples have endured before and since the foundation of Canada. The TRUTH of the devastating inter-generational impacts of these overt and covert legislations, policies, and actions have become undeniable for all Canadians because of the recent discovery of approximately 215 Indigenous children’s bodies on school grounds at the Kamloops Indian Residential School. We know that this is just the beginning of this kind of news. I recently listened to Member of Parliament and Inuit Nunavut leader Mumilaaq Qaqqaq’s June 15, 2021 farewell speech where she outlined her experience within the House of Commons. Qaqqaq stated, “I have never felt safe or protected in my position…when I walk through these doors not only am I reminded of the clear colonial house on fire that I am willingly walking into, I am already in survival mode.” The speech is passionate, honest, and provides a very vivid picture of the dire challenges that Inuit currently face – much of which has occurred within the last 70 years. I encourage all to take time to listen to this jarring message. From these recent events, it is evident that much reparation, relationship-building, and healing is needed between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. I also want to impress upon people who engage in this work to recognize both Indigenous strengths and challenges to ensure that (re)conciliation remains real.

With this in mind, I ask people to consider respectful and sustained personal and professional actions that go beyond the events related to National Indigenous Peoples Day.

What do we know about the realization of this day? In 1996, 24 years ago, Governor General Romeo LeBanc proclaimed June 21 (the summer solstice) as National Aboriginal Day. He stated, “On June 21, this year and every year, Canada will honour the native peoples who first brought humanity to this great land and may the first peoples of our past always be full and proud partners of the future.” This day became a reality because of the persistent advocacy by Indigenous leadership:

  • in 1982, the National Indian Brotherhood (now the Assembly of First Nations) called for the creation of National Aboriginal Solidarity Day
  • in 1995, the Sacred Assembly, a national conference of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people chaired by Elijah Harper, called for a national holiday to celebrate the contributions of Indigenous Peoples
  • in 1995, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples recommended the designation of a National First Peoples Day

The name was changed to National Indigenous Peoples Day in 2017.

More than a day, but a month. In 2009, 11 years ago, the House of Commons unanimously passed a motion to designate June as National Indigenous History Month. This month, all Canadians are encouraged to respectfully seek knowledge about Indigenous histories, cultures, stories, contributions, and current realities; and to perhaps deepen relationships with Indigenous peoples. Another day when we can stand united with Indigenous peoples from around the world is on August 9, which is International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. This day became a reality in December of 1994 through resolution by the United Nations General Assembly. 

Canada and our world can only be strengthened by Indigenous knowledges, ways of being and doing. How can we listen, learn and relate? Below are some places to begin your journey of rich exploration:

  • USask: College of Arts and Science will host an online panel of USask scholars (Dr. Carrie Bourassa, Dr. Winona Wheeler, Dr. Benjamin Hoy and hosted by Dr. Angela Jaime) for a discussion of Indigenous histories, current events, and the concept of conciliation. 
  • USask: Art Galleries and Collection - From June 21–30, the Snelgrove gallery and the main entrance of the Arts Building will be lit up with the calls to action released in 2015 by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.
  • City of Saskatoon: National Aboriginal Day and 2nd Annual Rock Your Roots Walk for Reconciliation
  • Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation: Understanding and Finding Our Way - Decolonizing Canadian Education 
  • Gabriel Dumont Institute: Join us as we celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day! In partnership with Parks Canada and Friends of Batoche, we will be hosting a free virtual event on our Facebook and YouTube pages on June 21, 2021. The celebration will start at 10:30AM. The virtual celebration will feature musician Donny Parenteau, Smoking Sage Drum Group, Angela Rancourt, Tristen Durocher, Gregory Scofield, Leah Dorion, a look into the historic Back to Batoche site, and words from our partners!
  • Lethbridge Public Library: As the Government of Canada considers the relationship between the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and Canadian law, other levels of government, including provinces and cities, have taken the initiative to use the Declaration as a framework for policy-making, reconciliation and relationship building with Indigenous peoples and Communities. This session will bring together two eminent scholars on Indigenous Rights, Dr. Leroy Little Bear and Dr. Sharon Venne, to discuss the origins and broad implications of the UNDRIP, as well as its local relevance and applicability. Register here. 
  • Rock Your Roots Walk for Reconciliation: On June 21 National Indigenous Peoples Day, we invite everyone to Walk for Reconciliation on their own or in small groups according to covid regulations. “Rock Your Roots” by wearing your own cultural regalia as you follow a route of your choosing, any time during that day. Hold or wear traditional symbols of your culture to showcase the diversity and inclusion within our community. 
  • APTN Indigenous Day Live 2021: Watch APTN Indigenous Day Live and kick your summer off with some of the biggest names in Indigenous music. Join hosts Earl Wood and Janelle Wookey with performances from Snotty Nose Rez Kids, Tom Wilson, iskwē, Neon Dreams, Julian Taylor, Charlotte Cardin, and more. Visit here for a broadcast and streaming schedule.
  • mâmawi ohkâwîmâw Mother Earth with Dr. Kevin wâsakâyâsiw Lewis: Join Dr. Lewis is a nêhiyaw (Plains Cree) instructor, researcher, and writer from Ministikwan Lake Cree Nation in Treaty 6 Territory. Dr. Lewis has worked with community schools in promoting land and language-based education and is the founder of kâniyâsihk Culture Camps, a non-profit organization focused on holistic community wellbeing. He is also a co-developer of Land-Based Cree Immersion School kâ-nêyâsihk mîkwâhpa. Find event info here

Jacqueline Ottmann
Vice-Provost, Indigenous Engagement
University of Saskatchewan

Share this story