A multitude of individuals and groups across British Columbia, including local and provincial governments, are spending Monday celebrating National Indigenous Peoples Day.
National Indigenous Peoples Day, held annually on June 21, is a day marked for all Canadians to recognize and celebrate the unique heritage, diverse cultures and outstanding contributions of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.
According to the Government of Canada, June 21, the summer solstice, was chosen for National Indigenous Peoples Day — in cooperation with Indigenous organizations — as many Indigenous peoples and communities have celebrated their culture and heritage on or near this day due to the significance of the summer solstice as the longest day of the year.
In wake of the recent discovery of the remains of 215 children at a former residential school in Kamloops, government bodies across the province are focused on more than just a day of celebration.
“As we honour and celebrate Indigenous communities today, we must also recognize the systemic racism, discrimination and intergenerational trauma Indigenous peoples have experienced and continue to experience. These harms are a daily, lived reality for Indigenous peoples,” reads a statement from B.C. Premier John Horgan.
The B.C. government says there is much more work to be done as it acknowledges the grief of all residential school survivors and their families.
“We recognize that reconciliation is a hard and essential journey that we will make together. Our government recognizes the responsibility we have to advance reconciliation in partnership with Indigenous peoples, and we are walking this journey side by side,” said Horgan.
The BC Liberals echoed those same sentiments, stating, “As Canadians, we must all take this journey together and re-affirm our commitment towards working to achieve meaningful reconciliation.”
Municipal-level governments are also acknowledging the different tone of this year’s National Indigenous Peoples Day, with the Cowichan Valley Regional District (CVRD) suggesting this year, has been unlike any before it.
“This year has been like no other, and yet the compassion and resiliency within the First Nation communities has been unwavering and an inspiration to us all,” said Aaron Stone, Mayor of Ladysmith and chair of the CVRD. “Now is the time to be focusing on healing and moving forward with trauma-informed reconciliation efforts.”
A release from the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs says it’s time Canada admitted accountability for past wrongs.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip says Indigenous Peoples Day comes during grieving after it was announced that 215 unmarked graves were found at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, and the “pain, trauma and hurt that continues to be inflicted by practices of colonialism.”
In the wake of the recent residential school discovery, multiple governments across Vancouver Island have made the decision to cancel upcoming Canada Day celebrations as well.
Victoria city council voted unanimously earlier this month to cancel a planned Canada Day broadcast and instead “explore what it means to be Canadian, in light of recent events,’ and the City of Penticton recently followed in the capital’s footsteps.
The chamber of commerce in Port Hardy also recently announced it had scrubbed Canada Day events, saying celebrations would not be “appropriate or respectful” while the investigation in Kamloops continues.
National Indigenous Peoples Day has been marked in Canada since 1996 and as a statutory territorial holiday in the Northwest Territories since 2001 and in Yukon since 2017.