Understanding National Indigenous Peoples Day in Canada, History, Significance, and Observance


Discover the history, significance, and ways to observe National Indigenous Peoples Day in Canada. Learn about the experiences of Indigenous peoples, the impact of colonization, and how you can engage in cultural events, support Indigenous artists, educate yourself, and contribute to truth, reconciliation, and allyship.

National Indigenous Peoples Day in Canada

National Aboriginal Day is a Canadian observance that celebrates and recognizes the heritage, cultures, and contributions of the Indigenous peoples of Canada. It is a day dedicated to acknowledging the diverse Indigenous cultures, languages, traditions, and histories that have shaped the country. The day provides an opportunity to reflect on the rich Indigenous heritage and to promote understanding, appreciation, and reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. National Aboriginal Day was first established in 1996 and is observed on June 21st each year. In 2017, it was renamed National Indigenous Peoples Day to reflect a broader recognition of the diverse Indigenous communities in Canada.

History of National Aboriginal Day

National Aboriginal Day has its roots in the efforts of Indigenous communities and organizations to promote and celebrate Indigenous cultures and heritage in Canada. Here is a brief history of the development of National Aboriginal Day:

  1. 1982: The National Indian Brotherhood, now known as the Assembly of First Nations, called for the creation of a National Aboriginal Solidarity Day to be celebrated on June 21st.
  2. 1995: The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, a government-appointed commission, recommended the establishment of a national holiday to celebrate the contributions of Indigenous peoples.
  3. June 13, 1996: The Governor General of Canada, Roméo LeBlanc, proclaimed June 21st as National Aboriginal Day. The date was chosen to coincide with the summer solstice, a significant day in many Indigenous cultures.
  4. In the early years, National Aboriginal Day was primarily observed through cultural events, powwows, traditional ceremonies, and educational activities organized by Indigenous communities across Canada.
  5. 2017: The federal government announced that National Aboriginal Day would be renamed National Indigenous Peoples Day. This change aimed to recognize and include the diverse Indigenous communities, including First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples.

The renaming of the day reflects a broader recognition and celebration of the rich cultures, languages, histories, and contributions of all Indigenous peoples in Canada.


National Indigenous Peoples Day continues to be celebrated on June 21st each year, with various activities, festivals, cultural exhibitions, and community gatherings held throughout the country to honor and showcase Indigenous heritage and promote understanding and reconciliation.

What happened to indigenous people in Canada?

The history of Indigenous peoples in Canada is complex and marked by colonization, dispossession of land, forced assimilation, discrimination, and ongoing challenges. Here is an overview of some key events and issues:

  1. Colonization: European colonization and the arrival of settlers had a significant impact on Indigenous communities. Indigenous peoples had their lands taken, often through treaties that were not always honored. Many Indigenous nations experienced displacement, loss of traditional territories, and the disruption of their traditional ways of life.
  2. Residential Schools: One of the darkest chapters in Canadian history is the establishment of residential schools. These government-sponsored and church-run institutions were designed to assimilate Indigenous children into Euro-Canadian culture. The schools forcibly separated children from their families, suppressed Indigenous languages and cultures, and subjected them to abuse, neglect, and cultural erasure. The legacy of residential schools has had profound intergenerational impacts on Indigenous communities.
  3. Indian Act: The Indian Act is federal legislation that has had a profound impact on the lives of Indigenous peoples in Canada. It was initially enacted in 1876 and has been revised multiple times. The Act has historically imposed a system of control over many aspects of Indigenous life, including governance, land ownership, cultural practices, and identity. Its provisions have been criticized for perpetuating systemic discrimination and undermining self-determination.
  4. Land and Resource Disputes: Indigenous communities in Canada have often faced challenges in protecting their land and resources. Many Indigenous groups continue to assert their land rights and have engaged in legal battles and protests to defend their territories from encroachment by industry and government. These disputes involve issues such as resource extraction, land claims, environmental concerns, and the duty to consult and accommodate Indigenous peoples.
  5. Calls for Truth and Reconciliation: In recent years, there has been a growing recognition of the need for truth, reconciliation, and addressing historical injustices. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada was established to investigate the impacts of the residential school system and make recommendations for healing and reconciliation. Its final report, released in 2015, called for actions to address the legacy of colonialism and promote a renewed relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.

These are just some of the key aspects of the history and ongoing challenges faced by Indigenous peoples in Canada. It is important to note that the experiences and perspectives of Indigenous communities are diverse, and there are ongoing efforts towards healing, cultural revitalization, self-governance, and the recognition of Indigenous rights in Canada.

How to Observe National Aboriginal Day

Observing National Aboriginal Day, now known as National Indigenous Peoples Day, provides an opportunity to learn, celebrate, and show support for Indigenous cultures and communities in Canada. Here are some ways you can observe this important day:

  1. Attend Cultural Events: Look for local events and activities organized by Indigenous communities, cultural centers, museums, or Indigenous organizations. These events may include powwows, traditional dances, music performances, storytelling, art exhibitions, and workshops. Participating in these events allows you to experience and appreciate Indigenous cultures firsthand.
  2. Educate Yourself: Take time to educate yourself about the history, contributions, and challenges faced by Indigenous peoples in Canada. Read books, watch documentaries, listen to podcasts, or explore online resources that provide accurate and diverse perspectives on Indigenous cultures, histories, and contemporary issues.
  3. Support Indigenous Artists and Businesses: Seek out Indigenous artists, artisans, and businesses and support their work. Purchase Indigenous artwork, crafts, clothing, or jewelry directly from Indigenous artists or Indigenous-owned businesses. This helps to support their livelihoods and promotes the preservation of traditional art forms and cultural expressions.
  4. Participate in Traditional Activities: Engage in activities that reflect Indigenous traditions and practices. This could involve learning about traditional Indigenous foods, participating in ceremonies, trying your hand at Indigenous crafts, or engaging in activities such as drumming or storytelling. Respect cultural protocols and seek guidance from Indigenous elders or community members when appropriate.
  5. Volunteer or Donate: Consider volunteering your time or donating to organizations that support Indigenous communities and initiatives. These organizations may focus on areas such as education, language revitalization, health services, land and resource rights, or cultural preservation. Research local Indigenous organizations or national Indigenous-led initiatives to find opportunities to contribute.
  6. Engage in Dialogue and Reconciliation: Take part in conversations and dialogues about truth, reconciliation, and decolonization. Engage with Indigenous voices, listen to their stories, and seek to understand their perspectives. Acknowledge the historical injustices and ongoing challenges faced by Indigenous peoples, and consider ways you can contribute to positive change and allyship.

Remember that observing National Indigenous Peoples Day is not just limited to a single day. It is essential to continue learning, supporting Indigenous communities, and advocating for their rights and well-being throughout the year.

Leave A Reply