Setting aside one day to honour something is always problematic. Yes, it’s great to acknowledge a particular person, like your mom or dad, who’s important to you; or a cause, like Earth Day, that we, as a society, profess to support.
But the downside is that a special day can sometimes morph into a convenient substitute for more substantive action during the rest of the year that truly demonstrates the depth of our commitment.
Relations between Canada and its Indigenous population have long been challenging. But in the last year or so, with the Idle No More movement springing up to protest aggressive resource exploitation on aboriginal territory, and the feds instituting targeted funding cuts to organizations like the Assembly of First Nations and Metis National Council that advocate on behalf of aboriginal interests, relations seem particularly rocky.
With that sad reality in the news these days, we asked three First Nations people with roots in Saskatchewan to offer a few thoughts on celebrating National Aboriginal Day in light of the political and cultural climate we live in. /Gregory Beatty
Adrian Stimson: A member of Siksika (Blackfoot) Nation in southern Alberta, Adrian is a Saskatoon-based visual artist. In 2010 he participated in the Canadian Armed Forces Artist program, spending two weeks in Kandahar, Afghanistan with Canadian forces.
For most Canadians, the sight of powwow dancers, Inuit throat singers and Metis jig dancers evokes nostalgic and romantic memories. June 21, our annual day of celebrating all that is indigenous, almost every corner of this country will be celebrating and learning about the over 500 indigenous cultures across this land we call Turtle Island.
I find this ironic, as only a few short months ago the same expressions of indigenous culture happened in malls, civic centres and highways across this country under the banner of Idle No More. It caused a dynamic unity, general alarm, some inconveniences and exposed the racist underbelly of Canada. Cultural expressions are one thing, the reality of life for First Nations, Inuit and Metis people is much different.
As I write this the Harper government has once again cut millions of dollars, to add to the mega cuts that have already crippled or erased many indigenous organizations. Actions speak louder than words, and for this country there is a definite split between who we like to think we are and who we actually are.
Elwood Jimmy: Of Nehiyaw/Nakawe heritage, Elwood hails from the Thunderchild First Nation near Meadow Lake in north-central Saskatchewan. A writer, artist, curator and arts administrator, he currently resides in Toronto.
When I think of the times we live in, the greatest gift we can give to ourselves, our communities, is empowerment. I think that is where the Idle No More movement has been most successful, in providing a foundation and a space for Indigenous people of diverse generations, cultural and linguistic backgrounds to have their voices heard and to self-determine and shape their own futures.
While we still have far to go in building the communities, governance, and leadership we want and need, the possibilities of what we can do collectively and as individuals has been demonstrated for a number of people in our community.
Simon Moccasin: Based in Regina, Simon is a performer of note who is from the Saulteaux First Nation.
June 21 is a special day that showcases aboriginal talent and [demonstrates] that the people of Turtle Island are a rich, vibrant, living culture of proud nations.
As a proud First Nations person I have seen the deterioration of my well-being and livelihood. I have seen and experienced racism. Treaty rights are still being eroded. And it is hard to make a good living that is on par to Canadians. Education and job training are under-funded. So, the dark side of this otherwise beautiful day is the day-to-day grind and suffering of my people.
But as proud people who have gone through such monstrosities as Res Schools and the Sixties Scoop we still march forward and our voices are now being heard even more. If every day was NAD, and if my people were to be consulted on political processes and implementation of everyday Kanata life, then the need for NAD would deteriorate — even cease to exist.
What a life it would be to think and act indigenously. We are all Treaty people, and we are all indigenous to some point. Aho.