June 21 is National Indigenous Peoples Day, and it is a civic holiday in the NWT and in Yukon. Hooray for the NWT and Yukon governments.

So, yeah, June 21 is National Indigenous Day, but what does that mean?

In the words of former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson, “It is an opportunity for all of us to celebrate our respect and admiration for First Nations, for Inuit, for Métis — for the past, the present and the future.” Well yaaaaa!

A friend of mine, who wants to remain anonymous, recently told me “Here’s an idea about respect, let’s all STAY SOBER on June 21.” Say what? Yeah, that’s right, my friend’s idea is for us to all stay sober on National Indigenous Peoples Day!

What a brilliant idea! Let’s do something different, something with meaning!

Let’s stay sober while we celebrate our heritage. We can do it in recognition of earlier generations that did not drink at all until alcohol was brought to the NWT by people like Sir John Franklin.

Or we can stay sober in honour of someone in our family who never drank – like my mom.

I suspect that the average person’s “respect and admiration” for Indigenous people would be negatively influenced by going downtown and seeing groups of Indigenous people who are drunk and yelling and swearing at each other. Not cool.

So yeah, let’s do it together or challenge each other to “all” stay sober on Indigenous Peoples Day, and by all, I do mean everybody.

We Indigenous people can stay sober to show pride and support for each other while we celebrate our heritage. We can teach others about our culture, or go out on the land, be with family, children and friends. Very cool.

Non-Indigenous people can also stay sober and participate in the festivities at Yellowknife River hosted by the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, or the fish fry put on by the North Slave Metis Alliance at Somba K’e Park.

But take it one step further and introduce yourself to an Aboriginal person. Get to know your neighbor, be curious and ask questions, lots of questions. We don’t bite. Eschia!

Come to the Yellowknife River, meet the Yellowknives Dene, and thank them for welcoming you to their territory. Then dance the night away.

The Birth of Indigenous People’s Day

National Aboriginal Day was proclaimed in 1996, after a lot of hard work by Aboriginal people. For instance, as far back as 1982, the Assembly of First Nations, then called the National Indian Brotherhood, lobbied to create National Aboriginal Solidarity Day.

They chose June 21 to celebrate because that’s when many Indigenous groups traditionally celebrate their heritage.

In 1995, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, co-chaired by Georges Erasmus of Yellowknife, recommended the designation of a National First Peoples Day.

Later that year, Elijah Harper chaired a national conference of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people called The Sacred Assembly, and it also called for a national holiday to celebrate the contributions of Aboriginal peoples. Mahsi, Elijah.

The following year, in 1996, Canada celebrated its first National Aboriginal Day on June 21.

And guess what? In 2001, the Northwest Territories became the first jurisdiction in Canada to recognize June 21 as a statutory holiday when the Legislative Assembly passed the National Aboriginal Day Act. Woohoo!

Later, in 2017, several young people tried to organize a huge drum dance, with 200 drummers from across the North, to celebrate National Aboriginal Day at Somba K’e Park. The plan was to later assemble at Yellowknife River and sing and dance all night long.

This was a great idea that, unfortunately, didn’t pan out. But some of us are talking about reviving this idea for June 21, 2023 — next year. We would have a year to plan and secure resources to hold the biggest drum dance in the history of the NWT!

To boot, it would be a totally sober drum dance. All right!

We all have a lot to celebrate, and let’s make National Indigenous Peoples Day a time to celebrate our heritage while we are sober. Mahsi.

Leave a comment

Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.