Letter: Celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day

Celebrated on June 21, National Indigenous Peoples Day is around the corner. It is an opportunity for all of us, wherever we are, to celebrate the rich Indigenous peoples’ heritage, culture, contributions and resilience. However, it’s more than a celebration, it is a statement of solidarity.

Whether you live north of 60 or elsewhere in Canada, the first step in genuine celebration is the land acknowledgment. I agree that a statement of land acknowledgment is important, but I also invite you to go beyond the written and verbal words. Let the acknowledgment mean being grateful to the Indigenous peoples and their ancestors who protected the land for countless generations. Let’s be grateful to the resilient Indigenous peoples who despite all of the hardship, oppression, injustices and challenges they have faced, are still filled with love and hope, opening their arms for true reconciliation.

While we cannot change the past, we live in the present and look forward to the future. Let’s live together with love, care and respect. Let’s look forward to a future in which racism and discrimination are history.

I wanted to focus on celebrations, aiming to spread joy. Before I do I’d like to invite everyone to take a pledge to reinforce and promote reconciliation efforts in our communities. I’m grateful to be on this land and I’ve always been inspired by the resiliency of my indigenous sisters and brothers.

I look forward to celebrating Indigenous Day. I can’t wait to be surrounded by members of my community, and also our union’s members, who will gather at events across the North to celebrate the day.

Let’s get together around art, food and music. Celebrating this day is celebrating Canada. It’s not enough to spread the message of tolerance. Let’s instead establish a culture of acceptance in our communities. Getting together and sharing the joy in one space is a way to establish acceptance within the community and pass it on to the next generation. There is no small action— every action has its ripple effect, many times over, that will last for generations.

Non-Indigenous community members also need to be open to learn, to never make assumptions or cast judgments, and understand their role as allies. As a labour activist and a union leader, I often hear and come across issues of people, whether in workplaces or elsewhere, not having enough knowledge about Indigenous peoples’ culture and traditions yet making assumptions all the while. If you don’t know, then ask. Be respectful and come from an ally’s perspective. Questions with genuine good intentions towards learning are well received.

Taking the spirit of the day to every day must be the aim of the celebration. After the joys of the day, be prepared for tough conversations. If you pledged to be an ally, remain one throughout the year.

No matter if it’s your workplace or community, never let discrimination be tolerable. Have those conversations with people, including your loved ones. Each one of us has the power of the ripple effect, even if it means a conversation at a family dinner about the importance of honouring and recognizing Indigenous people. Many Canadians have not learned the true history through the educational system.

Conversations that aim to raise awareness help. Can you be part of the positive change? Throughout the year, there will be events, rallies and vigils. Let’s be present. I believe that we all can be part of this change.

Jack Bourassa

Regional executive vice president for the North Public Service Alliance of Canada

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