The story of Canada’s First Nations and Aboriginal Peoples is one of perseverance under immensely difficult circumstances. That perseverance led to the proclamation by Parliament of National Aboriginal Day.
The proclamation designated the summer solstice – the first day of summer and the longest day of the year – as a day to commemorate the vast and rich contributions of Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples. This day is celebrated with events from coast to coast to coast to recognize the essential role of Canada’s diverse Aboriginal Peoples.
It was not a straightforward path to achieving June 21 as National Aboriginal Day. Attempts to declare this day began in 1982 with requests from the National Indian Brotherhood (now the Assembly of First Nations). It wasn’t until 1990 that the Quebec legislature was the first provincial government in Canada to recognize June 21 as a day to celebrate aboriginal culture.
Then, in 1995, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples recommended the designation of a National First Peoples Day. In the same year, the Sacred Assembly – a national conference of aboriginal and non-aboriginal people – also called for a national holiday to celebrate the contributions of Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples.
The importance of this day is not only to identify and pay homage to the social, economic, and political contributions that Aboriginal Peoples have made to the fabric of Canada, but it is, at the very least, equally as important to recognize the historical and systemic hardships and exploitation that Aboriginal Peoples have endured during the post-colonial era.
While systemic inequities concerning the contemporary treatment of Aboriginal Peoples are unfortunately a reality in many communities across Canada, Aboriginal Peoples are a growing and vibrant community. A brief glance at the statistics tells a story of thriving and increasing populations. Statistics Canada states that by 2017 there will be an estimated 1.39-million to 1.43-million aboriginal persons in Canada. As such, they would represent 4.1% of the Canadian population, up from 3.4% in 2001. Canada’s aboriginal population is expected to grow by 1.8% annually, more than twice the rate of 0.7% for the general population. The aboriginal birth rate is 1.5 times higher than the general rate. Clearly, aboriginal communities are expanding communities.
As the largest private-sector union in Canada, UFCW Canada embraces June 21 as an opportunity to commemorate the contributions of First Nations and other Aboriginal Peoples in our communities and our workplaces, and to also recognize that our collective work in advocating for justice and dignity for all Aboriginal Peoples is far from over.