National Aboriginal Day: 6 events that changed the conversation

A look at five key events that changed the conversation between Indigenous Peoples and the rest of Canadians.

Monumental moments from Meech Lake to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's report

Aboriginal leader Elijah Harper, a former Manitoba MLA and MP, played a key role in defeating the Meech Lake accord. ((Wayne Glowacki/Winnipeg Free Press/Canadian Press))

Aboriginal Day is going to be celebrated this Sunday, June 21, 2015. Celebrations will be held across the country — which makes me reflect on the past 25 years when it comes to indigenous peoples and Canada.

Certain events have highlighted the conversation involving the rising voice of indigenous peoples in today's society. 

So without further ado, I would like to share with you "The Maeengan Top Five-ish List of Monumental Moments of Indigenous Milestones and Opportunities Lost in Aboriginal/Canadian Relations, Conversation, and Reconciliation."

1. The Meech Lake Accord (1990)

Then-prime minister Brian Mulroney hatched a scheme to amend the Canadian Constitution in order to bring Quebec into the fold. The only problem was that he neglected to include Aboriginal Peoples into the discussion.

Elijah Harper killed Meech Lake when he said 'No.'

As a result, Mulroney went back to the drawing board and came out with the Charlottetown Accord. This time around, he included First Nations representatives in the negotiations on amending the Constitution, which included Aboriginal Peoples as "one of three orders of government."

In the end, it was rejected by all Canadians in a national referendum, and it set precedent to include aboriginal leaders in matters that pertained to them.

2. The Oka Crisis (1990) 

Weeks after the Meech Lake Accord bled on the steps of the Manitoba Legislative building, a land dispute exploded between the Town of Oka and the Mohawks of Kanesatake.

A sign that translates as "Let us live in peace with our Mohawk friends" is visible to soldiers walking to position near Indian barricade at Oka, Que., on Aug. 21, 1990. (Bill Grimshaw/Canadian Press)
This galvanized First Nations people across the country to stand shoulder to shoulder with Kanesatake during the summer of 1990. The Mohawks were protecting a burial ground from being developed into a golf course. In Winnipeg, a peace camp was set up in solidarity (where at least one baby was conceived).

When the crisis ended 78 days later, Mulroney launched the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, a national inquiry that examined the relationship between Canada and Aboriginal Peoples. It offered amazing recommendations to be implemented, and it enabled aboriginal organizations a wealth of information to use in formulation of project proposals.

Unfortunately, it was placed on a shelf, where it continues to gather dust.

3. Phil Fontaine discloses personal abuse in residential school (1990) 

Phil Fontaine, a former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, had spent time at a residential school before launching his political career. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)
When he was grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, Phil Fontaine was the first high-profile indigenous leader to disclose his experience of abuse as a child while in residential school.

His story flung open doors and shed light into Canada's darkest periods of history.

When Fontaine became national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, he was instrumental in the negotiation of the Indian Residential Schools Agreement, which established compensation for over 80,000 survivors, and the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

The Government of Canada issued an apology to the survivors of residential schools in 2008.

4. Idle No More (2012) 

Drawn to the sound of the drum, a downtown employee snaps a photo of the New Year's Eve 2014 round dance at Portage and Main in Winnipeg. (Eman Agpalza / ARP Books)
With fear of losing their federal funding pervading amongst aboriginal organizations, Idle No More activists organized teach-ins on Bill C-45.

Round dances exploded across the country in direct response to Prime Minister Stephen Harper's imposed policies on indigenous peoples and communities.

We can thank Harper for inspiring indigenous peoples to start organizing amongst themselves, to educate themselves and Canadians on indigenous issues, and to build their capacity to "create community at the grassroots level."

5. #MMIW (2014)

Fifteen-year-old Tina Fontaine's body was recovered from the Red River on Aug. 17, 2014. (CBC)
The RCMP report on missing and murdered indigenous women and girls established the number of 1,181 indigenous women who were murdered or missing.

Combined with Tina Fontaine's murder, it raised the awareness to a new level and brought thousands of people, indigenous and non-indigenous together. As well, it has moved some political parties to call for a national inquiry into MMIW.

6. Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Report (2015)

I can't finish this list without including and acknowledging today's opportunity only because the ink has not had the opportunity to dry yet. But, I am optimistic it will create deep and inherent change at multiple levels, and with Canadians from all walks of life.

Manitoba Justice Murray Sinclair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission says he wants to change people's attitudes about education and make aboriginal people proud of their everyday accomplishments. (CBC)
It is the first government report to describe Indian residential schools as an act of genocide, and the first report that doesn't place too much faith in the current government implementing it.

But then again, lead commissioner Justice Murray Sinclair said all Canadians carry the responsibility for carrying out the recommendations.

So now we — both indigenous and non-indigenous — can think about what we can do to carry the conversation forward, looking beyond the the government policy, frameworks, and reports, and focusing on the humanity of indigenous peoples.

And on National Aboriginal Day, I'm going to wake up and I'm going to say, "Today is a good day to live."


Maeengan Linklater is Anishinaabe and originally hails from Lac Seul First Nation, Ontario. He is a father, a long-time Urban Aboriginal community volunteer, and a poet.