Written by Coral Lyster, Lawyer, SHARP Workplaces at Community Legal Assistance Society

Throughout June we’ll be celebrating Indigenous History Month. The major date of celebrations this month is June 21st, which marks the 25th annual National Indigenous Peoples Day[1]. The Government of Canada has created a website with links to relevant information and activities to commemorate the occasion, accompanied by a reminder to everyone to follow COVID-19 guidelines[2].

Because of the discovery of 215 remains of children buried in unmarked graves at a former Kamloops residential school, this year’s Indigenous Peoples History Month is dedicated to “the missing children, the families left behind and the survivors of residential schools.”[3] It’s a reminder that action and support of Indigenous Peoples needs to happen this month and every month, and that acts of celebration and remembrance alone are not enough.

As a Cree woman, I can say June 2021 has been a particularly exhausting month. A month in which each day Indigenous Peoples have found themselves asking “what now?”[4] every time the breaking news ticker pops up on TV. Although June has been rife with difficult news[5], there have been a few bright spots that seem to indicate we’re moving in a positive direction. News that the Senate has approved Bill C-15 to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples[6] is one of them.

The UN Declaration affirms the rights of Indigenous Peoples to self-determination, language, culture and traditional lands. It also highlights the need for free, prior and informed consent from Indigenous Peoples on anything that infringes on their lands or rights. Supporting the implementation of the UN Declaration in Canada is an action Canadians can do now, to acknowledge Indigenous People in Canada and around the world.

One way to celebrate Indigenous Peoples History month is to familiarize yourself with and help support the implementation of the 94 Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action[7]. Talk about them on social media, with your family and friends and the political parties you support.

Part of your celebrations could be dedicated to learning more about residential schools, with many books suitable for children and adults[8] available in public libraries across Canada. There’s a variety of cultural events and celebrations happening around the country and province[9], including virtual events[10].

A great new resource worth exploring is the First Peoples’ Map of British Columbia[11]. The virtual map allows users to explore B.C.’s Indigenous languages, arts and heritage. There is no better way to celebrate Indigenous History month than to take time to listen to, learn from and support Indigenous Peoples.

[1] Celebrating national Indigenous Peoples day. (2021, June 16). CBC News. Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/community/nipd-2021-1.6067730

[2] Government of Canada, Indigenous, & Northern Affairs Canada. (2016, June 22). National Indigenous History Month 2021. Retrieved June 18, 2021, from Rcaanc-cirnac.gc.ca website: https://www.rcaanc-cirnac.gc.ca/eng/1466616436543/1534874922512

[3] Government of Canada, Relations, C.-I., & Northern Affairs Canada. (2021, May 19). Learn more about National Indigenous History Month. Retrieved June 18, 2021, from Rcaanc-cirnac.gc.ca website: https://www.rcaanc-cirnac.gc.ca/eng/1621447127773/1621447157184

[4] Latest breaking news has Indigenous People asking ‘what now?’ (2019, February 19). Retrieved June 18, 2021, from Walkingeaglenews.com website: https://walkingeaglenews.com/2019/02/19/latest-breaking-news-has-indigenous-people-asking-now-what/

[5] Williams, M. (2021, June 9). Why the Pope’s lack of apology over church’s role in residential schools was no surprise to Vatican observers. CBC News. Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/news/world/pope-residential-schools-vatican-observers-1.6057873

[6] Senate approves bill to implement UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. (2021, June 16). CBC News. Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/undrip-declaration-passes-senate-1.6068524

[7] Mas, S. (2015, December 16). Truth and Reconciliation offers 94 “calls to action.” CBC News. Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/truth-and-reconciliation-94-calls-to-action-1.3362258

[8] 48 books by Indigenous writers to read to understand residential schools. (2021, June 11). CBC News. Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/books/48-books-by-indigenous-writers-to-read-to-understand-residential-schools-1.6056204

[9] (N.d.). Retrieved June 18, 2021, from Vancouversbestplaces.com website: https://vancouversbestplaces.com/national-aboriginal-day/

[10] CelebrateCanada_Desktop_E. (n.d.). Retrieved June 18, 2021, from Tableau.com website: https://public.tableau.com/views/CelebrateCanada_Desktop_E/S-NIPD?:showVizHome=no&:embed=true&:toolbar=no&language=EN-CA

[11] First Peoples’ map of B.C. (n.d.). Retrieved June 18, 2021, from Fpcc.ca website: https://maps.fpcc.ca/splashscreen

Image from the Government of Canada Promotional Resources Page.