Written by Ashley Oakes

National Aboriginal Day has been celebrated in Canada for 21 years.  First announced in 1996 by than Governor General of Canada, Romeo LeBlanc, National Aboriginal Day is a day for all Canadians to recognize and celebrate the unique heritage, diverse cultures and outstanding contributions of First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples.

June 21st, the summer solstice, was selected for National Aboriginal Day due to the long history and tradition that many Indigenous Peoples and communities place on the significance of this day as the longest day of the year.

For the past 13 years, Squamish has come together as a community to celebrate National Aboriginal Day at Totem Hall.  I caught up with Christine Baker, a board member with Howe Sound Women’s Centre Society, to learn more about National Aboriginal Day and its importance in supporting reconciliation, and bringing First Nations culture to the forefront of Canadian Society, particularly as it relates to First Nations Women.

 

Could you please tell me a bit about Squamish’s National Aboriginal Day Event and its history?

Squamish’s National Aboriginal Day started with the Mt. Chaki Youth Canoe Club, consisting of youth who have been supported by two individuals:  Aggie Andrew  (Sesaxwalia) and Allen Jim (Shlomish).  These individuals saw the importance of Canoe and what it represents for the Youth and the Squamish Nation – 4 Directions, 4 Seasons, 4 parts of the Medicine Wheel – taking care of yourself and culture and language being part of that.

The club has various ‘racing’ canoes events for the Children; they practice every year in the waters of the Howe Sound and they travel throughout the Coast Salish Territories to compete.  The club has operated for approximately 13 Seasons now.

Part of their ‘practice’ has been the Annual Canoe Racing here in Squamish, with local authorities and other local canoes (usually sea-going canoes) on June 21, National Aboriginal Day.

Everyone is invited to come together and celebrate, including our local community school, ‘Cultural Journeys’ at this Annual Event.  There is drumming and singing and celebrating!

Our Squamish First Nations community, with the support of our Squamish Nation has been re-introducing and teaching our Squamish Culture and Language for some time now.  We have two Language classes that our youth and adults have been attending.  This is offered through Capilano University and Simon Fraser University.  We went from (at some point) as low as 3 fluent Squamish Language Speakers to 27 fluent Speakers and it’s continuing to grow!

How does National Aboriginal Day, and events such as the one at Totem Hall, support reconciliation?

With the support of our Elders, who continue on their own “Healing Journey”, we shared our story with the Squamish Mayor and Council at our Squamish Public Library and with Squamish Community members.   We created a ‘Reading Group’ at the Library and went through the 535 page document called, “Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future, the Summary of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada” and the “Truth and Reconciliation 94 Call to Action.”  The elders held a circle for discussion.   The take-away – ‘What can you as an individual, do to address the 94 Call to Action Recommendations?’ We found this to be very effective, as this was repeated at the District of Gibsons, with the elders and local community members.

Could you please speak a bit about the importance of bringing First Nations culture more to the forefront of Canadian Society; and why is this of particular importance to First Nations Women?

Canadians must recognize and understand the different cultures and languages throughout this place we call, ‘Canada’.   They must also recognize our need to continue to protect and educate our children.  We also need to teach and recognize the important role our Women have in this community, as mother, grandmother, auntie, but also encourage them for higher education, Health – look after yourself and your children – be independent and also contribute to this community.   We have various programs and services for our 400 member community here in Squamish Valley….’On the Road to Healing and Wellness’….

We, as a Nation continue to work within our community to address the ‘Impacts of Indian Residential Schools’ and continue to celebrate our ‘Survival’ as First Nations People.

This Day, Aboriginal Day, gives us an opportunity to do that……O’Seim….All My Relations….

TlatlaKwot   – Christine Baker

 

I am honoured to have had such a beautiful and thoughtful response from Christine and offer my gratitude to her for her contributions to this month’s post. Please join us on Wednesday, June 21st for National Aboriginal Day at Totem Hall and celebrate with this the culture and history of the Coast Salish Peoples.