By Jessica Diamond
The history of the First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities in Canada is a rich, complex, and painful story of determination and resilience. Interwoven in this history is the loss of appropriated land and the legacy of enduring pride and pain it created. The first “National Aboriginal Day” was declared on June 21st, 1996. The date was chosen due to the significance of the summer solstice in many Indigenous communities.
Indigenous peoples lived across North America for thousands of years before European immigrants arrived in the 11th century. Though each community lived and thrived off the land, they were incredibly diverse in terms of social structures, architecture, methods of agriculture, and spiritual belief systems.
After contact with European immigrants began in the 11th century, these communities became slowly decimated and their members forced to assimilate with the invading peoples. Significant cultural and social traditions were lost in a few hundred years. It was only recently that the Canadian government formally acknowledged this by establishing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and publicly apologize to all former students of residential schools for the suffering they experienced.
Acknowledgment is the start; action is the next step. Here are two examples of important actions that are needed to support reconciliation:
Boil Water Advisories
Access to clean water is a luxury for many in the First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities across Canada. For example, the Neskantaga First Nation in Ontario has not had safe tap water since 1995. Everyone in Canada should have access to safe, clean drinking water.
Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women
Indigenous women experience a higher rate of assault and murder than any other group in Canada. In a 2014 report, the RCMP acknowledged there have been more than 1,200 missing and murdered Indigenous women between 1980 and 2012. However, Indigenous women’s rights groups document the number to be over 4,000. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has called for an inquiry into the causes of, and remedies for, the disproportionate victimization of Indigenous women and girls in Canada.
What You Can Do to Support Indigenous People’s Month
1. Educate Yourself and Others
Many of us are aware of the basic history of the First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people, but they are not aware of the continued systemic disenfranchisement of these communities. While it may be tempting to ask your First Nations, Inuit, and Métis friends and colleagues to help educate you, it is not their burden to bear. Research with a critical lens and be mindful to read written by members of these communities.
- Become an Ally to the Community
It can be difficult to reflect and recognize your role in the continued systemic discrimination of these communities. Listen, learn, and bear witness to their struggles. Create a safe space to hear their stories.
The David Suzuki Foundation has established a clean drinking water project that petitions local and federal bodies to improve the most basic human living conditions in these communities. Follow the link to learn more and take action.