Indigenous leaders in Newfoundland and Labrador are asking everyone in the province to celebrate today: National Indigenous Peoples Day.
When Innu Nation Grand Chief Gregory Rich was asked about it on Wednesday, he said he thought about the shared meals of fresh trout and Arctic char, a tent in Natuashish where community members will gather to celebrate, and a young man being encouraged to speak Innu-Aimun.
It means a lot to Rich to hear the 13-year-old.
“His language is very clear and he loves wild food,” the grand chief said, with a short laugh at a memory there, before noting extended time out on the land is important, “and that’s an example of me as a parent (trying) to teach my young boy where we’re from and who we are, and this is what we survive on. But that’s what we’re trying to do over the next two or three days (of events), to let our young people know where we’re from and this is what we did to survive for thousands of years.”
Indigenous Peoples Day, he suggested, is an opportunity for the province and country to reflect on the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. It’s about considering where we’ve made progress in coming to terms with colonial Canada, and where we have far more work ahead.
For the victims of a cultural genocide, as confirmed by the commission, any further loss of identity requires attention.
Rich told The Telegram it’s why removal of children from the communities of Sheshatshiu and Natuashish, with placement in non-Indigenous care, has demanded attention from the provincial and federal governments, following the calls of Indigenous leadership.
It’s also why National Indigenous Peoples Day in northern Labrador will involve family events and a celebration of cultures.
Nunatsiavut President Johannes Lampe said National Indigenous Peoples Day will be marked by the Inuit of Nunatsiavut with participation in fishing contests, Inuit games and shared picnics with traditional foods.
“Certainly as Labrador Inuit we are proud to be Inuit, proud of culture, who we are and where we are,” he said.
Lampe said all Canadians are welcome to celebrate, while making an effort to understand some of the country’s colonial past and present-day challenges.
“Something like that is very important for Canadians to know and to learn and to understand,” he said, referring not only to residential schools, but an entire lost history. Inuit youth need to hear it too, he added.
On reconciliation efforts, he said the Inuit of Nunatsiavut face children being placed in non-Indigenous government care.
“That is a form of reconciliation that we are working on, and it takes steps to get to where we want to be,” he said.
NunatuKavut Community Council President Todd Russell said National Indigenous Peoples Day is a holiday for members in southern Labrador, who will participate in community events and share time with family. “For us it is a day to reflect upon ourselves, our story, how far we have come as a people, from a NunatuKavut Inuit perspective,” Russell said.
There is also room to think about reconciliation.
“I think at the end of the day there’s a sense that reconciliation is going to happen somewhere else, with somebody else, and I believe that it would be important for people to realize we’re all in this — this process of reconciliation, this era of reconciliation and everybody has a role in it,” he said. “If people can accept that and engage in that, I think they’ll find their own lives enriched in many, many ways.”
"Unfortunately, racism and prejudice always comes around. It’s like a cancer. It’s going to always be there because there’s going to be somebody feeding that." — Mi’kamawey Mawi’omi Chief Mi’sel Joe
For the Miawpukek Mi’kamawey Mawi’omi, the Miawpukek First Nation at Conne River, the main celebrations of the day come later, incorporated into the band’s three-day powwow, set for the July 1 weekend.
The powwow is open to everyone, Chief Mi’sel Joe said, and people from all over the world have visited over the years to learn and to enjoy themselves.
“There is change. It’s probably never going to be fast enough, but there is change happening within government, within people in general,” Joe said about reconciliation.
“Unfortunately, racism and prejudice always comes around. It’s like a cancer. It’s going to always be there because there’s going to be somebody feeding that,” he said.
Joe said the key to warding off prejudice is education. And he encouraged participation in National Indigenous Peoples Day events.
“Go to those (events). Get involved with them, be a part of them and help to speak out, to tell the truth about who we are and what we are,” he said. “Those are the things that make a difference.”
Members of the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nations Band led related events in western Newfoundland on Wednesday (The Telegram was unable to reach a representative as of deadline), but there are more events set for throughout the day Thursday at Margaret Bowater Park in Corner Brook.
At the St. John’s Native Friendship Centre, executive director Christopher Sheppard said work in planning events in the metro area starts months in advance. There are outreach sessions, informational sessions and community events throughout the week, including a sunrise ceremony scheduled for Bannerman Park on Thursday morning and a gathering open to everyone from 4:30-7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Techniplex in St. John’s.
Sheppard said the centre has been hearing more from individuals and businesses in recent years, making contact to learn and be part of reconciliation efforts.
“Reconciliation, it’s such an overwhelming term,” he said. “Reconciliation really comes down to people being willing to even have that conversation.”
Suggestions for everyday acts in support of reconciliation can be found online at ActiveHistory.ca.