Monday, August 1, 2016

What Does National Aboriginal Day Mean to You?

Today is Saskatchewan Day. First Monday in August. September will bring Labour Day, followed by Thanksgiving, Remembrance, Christmas, Boxing, New Years, Family Day, Good Friday, Easter Monday, Victoria Day, and then Canada Day on July 1st. I don't usually give these occasions much attention, but I am thankful for days off and time to be with family.

I am also thankful that twenty years ago, the Government of Canada created National Aboriginal Day, even though they didn't make June 21st a national holiday. I'm a teacher, so if NAD falls on a school day, most likely I'm administering a final exam or winding down the year. I'm always happy, looking up from my marking, to catch a sound bite on Facebook or read a few tweets, as we, "Catch the spirit... celebrate the unique heritage, diverse cultures and outstanding achievements of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples in Canada," as the folks at Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada would say.

I'm trying to imagine what National Aboriginal Day would mean to the Indigenous peoples of this land. I imagine some folks are happy to have the government acknowledgement, or more importantly, the acknowledgement from their neighbours and friends, their Treaty partners. I imagine many people are happy to share the gifts of their culture, as generosity is a familiar Indigenous teaching. Many Indigenous people celebrate June 21st, and some employers even honour the day with a day off.

I keep reading on the Government of Canada, National Aboriginal Day website; there are topics such as Reconciliation, Indigenous History, Indigenous and Northern Success Stories, so that can't be bad, and I learn something new, too, that National Aboriginal Day came into being through a Royal Proclamation in 1996, and therefore, the Governor General of Canada along with Queen Elizabeth the Second herself acknowledge the following:

"Whereas the Aboriginal peoples of Canada have made and continue to make valuable contributions to Canadian society and it is considered appropriate that there be, in each year, a day to mark and celebrate these contributions and to recognize the different cultures of the Aboriginal peoples of Canada" (Royal Proclamation, 1996).

Because of this and other "whereas-es" we should heed the following:

"Of All of Which Our Loving Subjects and all others whom these Presents may concern are hereby required to take notice and to govern themselves accordingly." (Royal Proclamation, 1996)

I'm trying to imagine what some of my Indigenous friends might think about this 1996 Royal Proclamation in light of the 1763 Royal Proclamation, acknowledging (although this is hard to hear through the thick, colonial language) the sovereignty of Indigenous peoples and the need for Treaties. The Royal Proclamation of 1763 has been broken or ignored repeatedly by Her Majesty's Loving Subjects, or, should we should say His Majesty's. It was King George the Third, afterall.

Knowing what I know now, with this little bit of research and thinking time, I'm thankful for how I spent National Aboriginal Day this past June. Through conversations with Valerie Brooks, the Vice Principal at Fort Qu'Appelle Elementary Community School; Reila Bird, Prairie Valley School Division's First Nations and Metis and Social Studies Consultant; and elders Norma Jean and Dick Byrd; we decided to "take notice and to govern (ourselves) accordingly" organizing a tipi raising demonstration with Elder Norma Jean Byrd sharing tipi teachings on the microphone to over three hundred school children. We planned to end in a good way, a Round Dance with students from the elementary drumming and singing.

Full disclosure, I may have posted a lot of pictures below, because the young women who were learning to raise the tipi include my daughter, Arwen, and five of her grade eight friends. My heart overflowed with joy, watching these girls cooperate, all wearing skirts out of respect for Elder Norma Jean's teachings, listening and learning together, three Indigenous students and three settler descendant students.

The pictures really do say it all.

This is my every-day-dream for education, for our community, for our country.

On Saskatchewan Day, and every other day, I thank the original peoples of this beautiful province for sharing land, livelihood, relationship and Treaty kinship with our side of the handshake. May we honour the Treaties. May we hear the truth of our shared history and walk hand-in-hand toward reconciliation.







Keywords: Treaty, Treaty education, Treaty relationship, miyowîcêhtowin, pimâcihowin, wîtaskêwin, wâhkôhtowin, decolonize, indigenize, unsettle

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