Sudbury

What National Indigenous Peoples Day means to Indigenous leaders in the northeast

On June 21, Indigenous people across Canada celebrate a day created for all Canadians to recognize the unique heritage, cultures and contributions of First Nations, Inuit and Métis people.

Canadians come together to reflect on the many contributions of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples

Celebrations across Canada on Tuesday for National Indigenous Peoples Day will include everything from traditional dance and powwows to storytelling. (Yvon Theriault/CBC)

For Dawn Madahbee Leach, National Indigenous Peoples Day is a time to celebrate that her culture has survived and remains strong.

On June 21, people across Canada gather to celebrate the unique heritage, cultures and contributions of First Nations, Inuit and Métis people.

"National Indigenous Day means so much," said Madahbee Leach, who is general manager of the Waubetek Business Development Corporation and chairs the National Indigenous Economic Development Board.

 "It's a celebration of people that have survived a lot of challenges."

Madahbee Leach said the day is an opportunity to reflect on the economic impact of colonialism, how it has excluded Indigenous people from the economy and looking forward to a place of economic reconciliation. 

Let's celebrate the role of our people, Indigenous people in Canada, to recognize that we had a major role in the settling of Canada.— Jeanette Corbiere Lavell, Elder from Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory

"Economic reconciliation, to me, would be when Indigenous people have the same education as the national average, the same income and employment as the national average," she said.

"One of the things that I would like to see is that our communities are managing prosperity rather than managing poverty."

Madahbee Leach added that National Indigenous Peoples Day is a chance for everyone to "learn the truth about Canada's history so that people can better understand what occurred, because oftentimes there was no reference to the truth with respect to Indigenous peoples in these lands."

Indigenous business leader Dawn Madahbee Leach says National Indigenous Peoples Day is an opportunity reflect on colonialism and how it has excluded Indigenous people in Canada from the economy. (Vanessa Heins/Indspire)

For Sudbury's Waubgeshig Rice, the day is a chance to celebrate his heritage.

Rice, a celebrated Indigenous author and freelance journalist, is urging settlers and Indigenous people alike to use the day as an opportunity to take in Indigenous art and culture.

"I always encourage people to go out and get involved with whatever is happening in their community, whether it's the powwow or storytelling circle or, you know, an interactive art exhibit or anything else like that," he said.

"But just also to keep in mind that there are other ways to support Indigenous communities and to engage with them, and also most importantly, make oneself more aware as a Canadian of the history of this country. Because, you know, there are some more things to learn as we've seen over the past year and a bit with the revelation of the unmarked graves at residential school sites."

Celebrating Indigenous innovation

Dominic Beaudry, an Anishinaabe educator, said the day is a good opportunity to look back and reflect on the path paved by Indigenous innovators in various fields from the sciences, to engineering, to academia.

"I think it's also important to celebrate all the Indigenous ingenuity in terms of inventions," Beaudry said. "Olivia Poole, an Ojibway woman, invented the Jolly Jumper in the 1950s."

He also highlighted John Bennett Herrington, of Chickasaw Nation in the United States, as one of the first Indigenous astronauts.

"For a National Indigenous Peoples Day, I think it's important to share all the great history of Indigenous people to all Canadians," Beaudry said.

For Indigenous author and freelance journalist Waubgeshig Rice, the day is a chance to celebrate his heritage. (Yvon Theriault/CBC)

Looking forward

Jeanette Corbiere Lavell, an elder from Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory, said setting aside a day to gather and spark joy with community members is an often overlooked but important act in moving toward reconciliation.

"Let's celebrate the role of our people, Indigenous people in Canada, to recognize that we had a major role in the settling of Canada," she said.

"And maybe if people recognized that, they might appreciate who we are, our history and what we can do for each other, especially as we're coming into the future and dealing with climate change and resources. and looking at global issues as well."

The Métis Nation of Ontario recognized the day as a chance to honour the contributions and achievements of all Indigenous people.

"May the light continue to shine on all Indigenous communities in celebration of all that we are," the organization said in a Facebook post on Tuesday. 

"Métis Nation of Ontario citizens join us in celebrating our Métis culture, way of life, achievements and resilience."

With files from Sam Juric

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