by Kerstin Auer —

It takes more than one month to familiarize oneself with a nation’s culture and history, but National Indigenous History Month is a good start for those who want to learn about how Canada’s Indigenous population persevered through centuries of colonialism. Both first-generation immigrants and Canadians whose families have lived in Canada for generations can start to gain a deeper understanding of the unique cultures, traditions, and experiences of the peoples who have inhabited this land for thousands of years. 

National Aboriginal History Month was first introduced in June 2009, following the first formal apology for the establishment of the Indian Residential School system, delivered in June 2008 by Prime Minister Stephen Harper on behalf of the Canadian government. The commemorative month was renamed to National Indigenous History Month in 2017, but the mandate remains the same – to learn about and honour the stories, resilience, and achievements of First Nations in Canada. 

Federal ministers Marc Miller, Minister of Crown–Indigenous Relations; Patty Hajdu, Minister of Indigenous Services; Dan Vandal, Minister of Northern Affairs, Minister responsible for PrairiesCan and CanNor; Pablo Rodriguez, Minister of Canadian Heritage issued a joint statement recognizing the month. 

“Indigenous histories are significant to Indigenous pride and cultures, and are fundamental to the identities of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis. The knowledge passed down by Elders and Knowledge Keepers connects families, communities and generations. These histories and cultures have protected Indigenous identities against hundreds of years of colonial policies, and have played a key role in Canadian history and society. Each week in June will be dedicated to a different theme to highlight specific aspects of Indigenous histories, cultures and experiences, including traditional knowledge, language, and reconciliation. June 21 is National Indigenous Peoples Day, which also marks the summer solstice, the longest day of the year and a culturally significant day for many Indigenous communities across Canada,” read the statement.

The first week of June focused on learning about women, girls, and the Two-Spirit community who have faced and continue to face many challenges as colonization flipped their world from a matriarchal society to a patriarchy. The theme for June 5 to 11 covered the environment, traditional knowledge, and territory. An overview of treaties, links to traditional stories, a guide to land acknowledgements, and more were – and are still – available on the government’s website for National Indigenous History Month. 

Last week, up until June 18th, learning resources for children of all ages were provided as part of the Children and Youth theme, and June 19 to 25 puts a focus on languages, culture, and arts. Finally, from June 26 to 30 the focus is Reconciliation with suggestions for teaching resources, toolkits, and the Canadian Reconciliation Barometer which tracks reconciliation efforts in Canada (www.reconciliationbarometer.ca).

“While this is a time to celebrate, we also reflect on how Canada’s historic wrongs have impacted its current relationship with Indigenous Peoples and the ongoing work to advance reconciliation. Our colonial past and the harmful policies that were implemented are the direct cause of many systemic issues that Indigenous Peoples face today. As communities across Canada continue to uncover the horrific truths of former residential schools, we are reminded that Indigenous Peoples have shared these stories for 150 years only to be ignored. And yet, as we move forward, there is a sense of optimism and hope for the generations to come, because Canada is working hand in hand with First Nations, Inuit and Métis partners to advance their priorities and renew these relationships. Together, we are building a more united and reconciled country,” adds the joint statement from the ministers. 

Getting involved and learning is easy. Visit the National Indigenous History Month website of the Canadian government at www.rcaanc-cirnac.gc.ca/eng/1683124800202/1683124846095 to browse all resources and start learning about the Indigenous Peoples who have inhabited this land for millenia.