By Chadd Cawson
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

National Indigenous Peoples Day will be celebrated across Canada next Tuesday, June 21, when Canadians will recognize and celebrate the rich, diverse, beautiful, and unique heritage and history of Indigenous Peoples. Columbia Valley residents live on the unceded territories of the Secwépemc (Shuswap) and Ktunaxa (Akisqnuk) First Nations and the land chosen as home by the Métis Peoples of B.C. 

The land runs along the gorgeous Columbia River— a river that has deeply-rooted Indigenous connections. It is also currently where the Indigenous led Bringing Home the Salmon initiative aims to restore its magical, pink glow— an effect from the richly plentiful salmon who occupied it during migration seasons. 

Events will be happening locally to celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day. The Shuswap Band will celebrate the day with flags, speakers, and traditional dances on the Shuswap Band Hall field, beginning at 12 p.m. and running till 4 p.m. 

There will be an opening ceremony with flag carriers, where many will share their stories, including Chief and Council, along with other members and Elders. There will be powwow dancers of all ages. There will also be cash prizes and honorariums present for different dance categories, such as the Potato, Owl, and Fancy Shawl Special dances to name a few.

“This day is a day we can be proud and show our culture. The surrounding community will see what a part of the Indigenous community does and I love to see the pride in the dancers when they have a chance to dance,” says Clarissa Stevens Shuswap Band Cultural and Family Liaison and one of the special day’s organizers.

The Government of Canada worked closely with a myriad of Indigenous organizations to carefully select June 21 as National Aboriginal Day. This day became official when Governor General of Canada, Roméo LeBlanc announced it in 1996. On June 21, 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued a statement with the intention that going forward the day would be referred to as National Indigenous Peoples Day. 

June 21 also doubles as the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. Because of the strong significance of the summer solstice, generations of Indigenous People have celebrated their culture and heritage on or around this day.

There were many steps along the way for this day to get here. In 1982, the National Indian Brotherhood (which we now know as the Assembly of First Nations) called for the creation of National Aboriginal Solidarity Day. Prior to this declaration, the day was a national conference comprised of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people called the Sacred Assembly. This conference (then chaired by Elijah Harper) worked tirelessly calling for a national holiday to celebrate all the many contributions of Indigenous people which include all First Nations, Inuit, and  Métis.

The Government of Canada shows its support for its Indigenous ancestors through tangible resources, as well as initiating nation-wide events. National Indigenous Peoples Day falls under the Celebrate Canada program.  This program also recognizes special days which follows such as Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day on June 24, Canadian Multiculturalism Day on June 27, and of course Canada Day on July 1. 

“Indigenous Peoples Day is a time for Indigenous people to recognize the achievements of the Indigenous people all over Turtle Island. It celebrates the distinct cultures and unique traditions of all Indigenous communities,” says Stevens. 

“It is a special day that brings awareness  to all the Indigenous groups in Canada, it is a great day and reason to show our culture, and the day means that summer is near.”