By: Brandon Choghri
National Aboriginal Day was celebrated in the nation’s capital with Prime Minister Trudeau making a gesture towards Truth and Reconciliation and a pledge to strengthen the relationship between Canada and its Indigenous Peoples.
One of the gestures was the renaming of a government building, Langevin Block, named for the man responsible for residential schools.
“We heard from you, from the TRC, and from many Indigenous communities over the past year that there is a deep pain in knowing that that building carries a name so closely associated with the horror of residential schools,” Trudeau said. “Keeping that name on the Prime Minister’s office is inconsistent with the values of our government and its inconsistent with our vision of a strong partnership with Indigenous peoples in Canada.”
At the event, National Inuit Leader Natan Obed spoke to the painful past.
“For the entire history of this country we have been plotted against one another. We have been separated, we have been pigeonholed through legislation, through arrangement that’s often started with the federal government,” he said.
Despite the tumultuous history, Obed said he’s looking forward to change with more awareness.
“One of my greatest hopes is that this brings unity and respect for Indigenous Peoples, for one another, in one place moving forward for the betterment of all of us and all of Canada.”
With the upcoming celebrations of Canada 150, Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde spoke of participating as First Nations people.
“We will look at the way we want to use that word ‘celebrate’ because what we’ll celebrate is this: is that in spite of the genocide from the residential schools, in spite of the colonization and oppression of the Indian Act, we say we’re still here and we’re getting stronger. Our young men and women are getting that pride back and they are going to take their rightful place. It is the next 150 years that will really make the difference for this country.”
National Aboriginal Day, which Trudeau plans to rename National Indigenous Peoples Day, was celebrated around the country as well.
Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) held events in eight cities across Canada. In Toronto, those festivities were held at Fort York, where guests were invited to partake in various ceremonies and cultural activities to celebrate the summer solstice.
Crowds gathered for storytelling from Indigenous leaders, traditional dances and drum circles.
One of the day’s performers was Rhonda Doxtator, a pow wow dancer from the Oneida nation of southern Ontario.
Her name is Kawisaha, which means “She is Carrying Ice.”
Doxtator also addressed the Canada 150 celebrations, and asked people to take time to remember the history of the nation.
“On that day [July 1], take a moment to think about where that prosperity came from,” she said.
One of the people in attendance today was Dennis Saunders, who brought his three children with him to participate in the celebration.
“We are of Aboriginal descent,” Saunders said. “Both my daughters are Métis, I’m of Inuit descent, so it’s nice to come out and see what it’s all about.”
Veronica Johnny (Meadow Valley Woman), has been teaching with the TDSB’s Aboriginal Education Centre for over five years and says teaching Indigenous culture is crucial.
“We need to give our youth whatever tools we can to survive this world. And not just survive, but thrive,” she said.
“I love seeing their faces change,” she said. “I love how after one song, or after a smudge, they feel empowered, they feel strong, they feel connected, they feel present.”
She led a drum circle today and said it was the largest group she’d ever met with.
“We’re here to look after the Earth. We’re here to make sure that there’s water, and healthy plants, land, animals, people for future generations. That’s what I want kids to take most out of – is connecting with themselves, connecting with the Earth, and connecting with each other.”
The celebration will continue tonight with APTN’s Aboriginal Day Live, which will feature various entertainers of Aboriginal descent on stages across the country. The performances will be headlined by Nelly Furtado and Daniel Lanois, and can be live streamed here starting at 7 p.m. ET.
With files from Adam Bernards, Reid Goodison and Sarah Watson.