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Hey Canada: It’s National Aboriginal Day
June 21, 2013
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Inuit youth participate in the dedication ceremony of a stained glass window commemorating the legacy of Indian Residential Schools, September 2012 (Photo: AAND/Flickr)

June 21 is National Aboriginal Day, an opportunity for Canadians to celebrate the many achievements of First Nations, Métis and Inuit people, and to acknowledge the many contributions they've made to this country.

There are celebrations planned across the country, and also a major rally in downtown Ottawa. Planning for the Million First Peoples' March started back in January, and today it's going down.

According to the organizers, the March is intended to raise awareness of Indigenous sovereignty and treaty rights, as well as opposition to Bill C-45, an omnibus bill that includes changes to Canada's Navigable Waters Protection Act.

In a release, they write that "as stewards of the land and mother Earth we must stand up against these reforms," and they call on people "to come from wherever you are in solidarity and unity, to bring your prayers, your drums, rattles, voices, regalia and spirits to this event!"

Festivities got under way at 10:30 am, when the Sacred FireKeeper, Peter Decontie, lit the fire. At 11:30, Hereditary Leader Claudette Commanda and an Algonquin Elder conducted a Welcoming Ceremony for the gathering.

Then at 12:30, the Million First Peoples' March to raise awareness about First Nations treaty rights and sovereignty began, with the March starting on Victoria Island and heading across Portage Bridge to Wellington Street, and then east to Parliament Hill.

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A drum-making demonstration at the grand opening of the Da Kų Cultural Centre in Haines Junction, YT (Photo: AAND/Flickr)

When the crowd arrives, speeches and performances begin, which will continue through the afternoon, culminating in a Round Dance at 4:30 pm.

You can see the full itinerary on the Million First Peoples' March Facebook page.

There are lots of other celebrations and events planned across Canada, and chances are something's happening near you today or in the near future.

For a full list of events and celebrations, check out this list on the Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AAND) site.

Last season, Canadian musician and broadcaster Wab Kinew stopped by the show to talk about First Nations stereotypes and why people need to stop using them. Check it out below:

A little history about today: the Governor General proclaimed the first National Aboriginal Day back in 1996, and June 21 was chosen in collaboration with Aboriginal organizations.

They selected today because it's the summer solstice and the longest day of the year, and many Aboriginal peoples choose to celebrate their heritage and culture on this day.

If you want to join in the celebrations and share your thoughts on Twitter, use the hashtag #NADCanada.

In the spirit of National Aboriginal Day, here are a couple of short documentaries produced by the AAND that highlight some of the contributions that Aboriginal Canadians have made to Canadian art and commerce.

First up is a look at "the epicentre of Inuit Art," Cape Dorset, Nunavut - or, as it's known by Inuit residents, Kinngait:

And here's a great story of Aboriginal business success: Deanna Johnson, an Aboriginal woman living in Chilliwack, BC, started a construction business called Nations Construction & Consulting.

She helps build quality homes for First Nations people, and in the process, inspires her community:

You can see lots more great videos on the AAND YouTube channel.

Related:

RIP Elijah Harper, Aboriginal Leader And Key Player In Meech Lake Accord

New Report Details Inequalities Between Aboriginal And Non-Aboriginal Canadians

Celebrate: It's National Aboriginal Day

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