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National Indigenous History Month

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Wars start when two parties haven’t taken the time to learn each other’s tongues.”
– Tomson Highway

 

National Indigenous History Month is a time to honour the history, heritage, and diversity of Canada’s Indigenous Peoples. Indigenous refers to anyone in Canada who is of First Nations, Metis and Inuit descent, including those who come from mixed backgrounds, status or non-status. It is a time to celebrate present-day Indigenous communities, their diverse cultural traditions, and generous contributions, including those in music, film/television, politics, and literature. It is also a time to acknowledge and subvert systemic racism by learning the true history of colonization and cultural genocide that has been inflicted on Indigenous people by the Canadian Government. National Indigenous History Month is a chance to enact reconciliation by uplifting Indigenous voices, honouring historical treaties, and advocating for inclusion at all levels. 

National Indigenous History Month occurs each year during the month of June. This has been observed ever since a unanimous vote in The House of Commons in 2009 declared June as National Indigenous History Month.

 

This was inspired as a means of expanding on National Indigenous Peoples Day, which has been celebrated each year on June 21 since 1996. Previously National Aboriginal Day, this day was suggested to take place during the Summer Solstice after several rounds of consultation. Although this day has existed under several names, including National Aboriginal Solidarity Day in 1982 and National First Peoples Day in 1995, up until it was renamed to National Indigenous Peoples Day in 2017 by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the intent of celebrating and uplifting the many contributions from Canada’s Indigenous People has remained.

Included in National Indigenous History Month is The National Day of Reconciliation on June 11 and, of course, National Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21.

We celebrate National Indigenous History Month to honour the traditional legacy of Canada’s Indigenous Peoples by understanding the contributions they made to shape this country. We celebrate to acknowledge our own complicity in establishing ourselves on unceded territory and benefiting from cultural genocide. We do this by learning about the history of the lands we occupy and the legacy of colonial violence, including: The Indian Act, 60’s Scoop and Residential Schools, which have all historically worked to assimilate and alienate Indigenous people. This was done by stripping them of their traditional culture by establishing legislation that made it illegal to practice sacred ceremonies and to speak their language. In order to reconcile with this part of our Canadian Heritage, we have to be willing to engage in dialogue that spreads awareness and advocates for meaningful change. 

We celebrate National Indigenous History Month to remind us of how vigilant we need to be when it comes to making information accessible to young minds. Unfortunately, education regarding Canada’s history of Residential Schools and the 60’s School is only now being introduced into the curriculum. There was an entire generation of learners who did not acquire this knowledge until much later, which ultimately makes it difficult to advocate for justice and reconciliation. The signing of Treaty 7 is a perfect example of a historical event that is not completely realized, as the consequences of this are felt from the Indigenous community, but often go unnoticed by non-Indigenous people. There is a legacy here that needs to be explored, which makes celebrating this history all the more necessary. 

We also celebrate National Indigenous History Month to recognize the power and perseverance of Canada’s Indigenous people. We do this by rejecting colonial violence and standing in solidarity with Indigenous people by showing up and holding space for them to speak their truth. This allows us to honour their resiliency by building a foundation of understanding as a means of coming together to celebrate diversity and inclusion. Much was lost due to assimilation, including many traditional cultural practices and historical knowledge sharing paradigms, but there is a rise in cultural revitalization that needs to be celebrated as well, as it speaks to the resiliency of the human spirit. While it is a time to subvert systemic racism and oppression, it is a chance to return to ceremony, to share stories of triumph, and reconnect with seemingly lost traditions. The more you know, the better your understanding is, which leads to an increase in care and community, which is ultimately the best way to Indigenize and decolonize our socio-political climate.

Everyone can participate in National Indigenous History Month because it is important to honour and work towards understanding those whose land we occupy. As Indigenous and non-Indigenous people alike, we must recognize ourselves as Treaty People, who share a common responsibility to celebrate cultural identity. It is important for Indigenous people (i.e First Nations, Metis, and Inuit) to celebrate and revitalize their cultural traditions, as well as for non-Indigenous people to understand their own complicity in benefitting from cultural genocide by way of erasure. In order for society to understand the truth behind Canada’s complicated history with its Indigenous Peoples, everyone must do their part to educate themselves and their peers.

You can celebrate National Indigenous History Month everywhere because Canada, like the rest of North America, is part of Turtle Island and remains an unceded territory as a result of colonization! Because gaining and sharing knowledge is so much more fun with others, we invite you to celebrate at home, in your community, online, and of course, in your school!

You can celebrate National Indigenous History Month in so many wonderful ways. You can start by learning about your local Indigenous community, including their cultural traditions, by visiting a Friendship Centre or other Cultural Resource Centre and creating your own personalized land acknowledgment. You can also learn about the complex history of colonization in Canada by referring to our attached list of resources. You can take your learning one step further by attending Indigenous Culture festivals that make space for Indigenous people to tell their stories, supporting local Indigenous artisans, and educating yourself by reading books, listening to music and podcasts, and attending performances by Indigenous Artists. The most important thing you can do is create a dialogue surrounding the importance of honouring Indigenous history, sharing everything you learn with your family and friends. You can also celebrate by participating in any of our theatrical activities that will help to activate your learning and find creative ways to share what you and your students learn.

To learn more about what Indigenous Theatre looks like in Mohkinstsis, you can visit Making Treaty 7 Cultural Society’s website, which includes videos of their work that showcases the legacy of the signing of Treaty 7 at Blackfoot Crossing.

One size does not fit all

How you and your school decide to use the suggested activities, performances, and resources will depend completely on what you and your peers are comfortable with, and the time you have available to designate to the project(s). Trickster is also available to consult with if you would like extra help, resource connections, and/or coordination. You can go big, involving every class with different projects, performances and events throughout the school, or, you can go as small as just doing an activity listed in the materials for your own class which you believe will help them connect to the subject matter. 

Due to the circumstances of COVID19, not everything suggested will be possible, and many will need to be adjusted to suit your needs and comfort level. As we hope to carry this forward, and know that schools are looking to future projects much further down the road, we do want to plant the seeds for what those event days might look like too. There will be suggestions throughout on how you can modify activities for social distancing, but you are also able at any point to choose and modify activities and projects to achieve the level of safety your school is comfortable with.

Why Teachers Love It

Our residency was a unifying and motivating experience that we used as a way to begin our year long inquiry about children’s rights.

— Lisa McConnell, Teacher, North Haven School, Calgary

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