National Indigenous People’s Day ...What Does It Mean Today?
National Indigenous People’s Day
Kitchener, Ontario - Today, Canada commemorates the 25th anniversary of National Indigenous People’s Day.
Announced in 1996, the day was originally created to honour the unique and diverse cultural heritage of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples, and celebrate the foundational and ongoing contributions of Indigenous communities to the Canada we know today.
While usually a day of celebration, this year’s observance is particularly somber as Canadians continue to mourn the recent horrific discovery of 215 bodies of students buried at a residential school in Tk’emlúps (Kamloops) and an additional 104 bodies found at a residential school in Manitoba.
These discoveries underscore the long-standing need to reflect, heal and come together in a spirit of truth and reconciliation. This acknowledges how Indigenous peoples have suffered from historic injustices as a result of their colonization, their ongoing oppression, and the racism upon which many of our institutions have been built.
Celebration is difficult when people’s daily lives are impacted by intergenerational trauma, systemic racism and discrimination.
Both I and members of City Council are personally committed to reconciliation by providing leadership and shaping governance to integrate inclusive best-practices across all City activity. We are also committed to continue learning to deepen our understanding of the history and current reality of Indigenous peoples, and addressing longstanding, systemic anti-Indigenous racism that exists in our community and in our organization.
The process of Indigenous reconciliation at the City of Kitchener includes our work with the O:se Kenhionhata:tie Land Back Camp, providing Indigenous competency training for staff and finding opportunities to explore cultural ceremony and celebration. More recently, the city has appointed a Director for Equity, Anti-racism and Indigenous Initiatives, who will lead a team of equity specialists including a Senior Indigenous Advisor.
We acknowledge that we have a long way to go and the path there is not a straight one. As we have learned over the past year, this work is complex, uncomfortable, and requires critical reflection on how power is distributed in our organizations and institutions. I know that as an organization, we still have much to learn and unlearn; we must listen to Indigenous community leaders and acknowledge and repair the mistakes and missteps that have been made along the way.
On this historic anniversary, and in the days and weeks ahead, I encourage all of you to learn about and acknowledge the reality of Canada’s history and the racism that still exists in individuals, systems and institutions. This includes learning about and recognizing the important contributions that First Nations, Inuit and Métis people have made in our city and nation.
I encourage all Kitchener residents to recognize National Indigenous People’s Day by learning about the devastating history of the Residential School system and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls to action. You can also support an Indigenous business or artist at the National Indigenous People’s Day Marketplace or make a donation to a local Indigenous organization (e.g. Healing of the Seven Generations or the Woodland Cultural Centre’s Save the Evidence?campaign).
Mayor Berry Vrbanovic
on behalf of the City of Kitchener
The Kamloops Indian Residential School in 1937