By RYAN KING
DEER LAKE — Canada celebrated National Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21. First celebrated in 1996, this date was chosen for several reasons, one being that it is the summer solstice. It is also a day on which many Indigenous people in Canada celebrate their heritage. Among those celebrating here on the West coast of Newfoundland were the Young family.
“We are living in a time of reconciliation, so it’s an opportunity for us to celebrate and share our culture with others, and take a stand against the oppression faced by Indigenous people for decades in Canada. It is also a time to remember and honor murdered and missing Indigenous people, as well as reflect and listen to the stories being shared about residential school experiences,” said Sara Young.
Young pointed out that the memories of the residential schools are still fresh in people’s minds, with the last school in Canada only closing as recently as 1996. It was through the residential school system that Indigenous children were removed from their homes, and had their language suppressed, along with their culture and traditions. These children experienced severe abuse on every conceivable level: mental, physical, sexual, and emotional.
“Now is the time to let residential school survivors speak and be heard,” said Young.
National Indigenous Peoples Day offers a chance for Indigenous people to come together and reconnect with their culture that faced near-destruction.
“When my family sits around a fire drumming every year on this day, it connects me to my ancestors, the land, my spirit and my culture and my community. It saddens me that we have lost many of my own family stories, culture, and traditions have been lost due to oppression and colonialism. Drumming is a way I can learn about my culture and be part of it, and teach my kids to carry out some tradition at the very least,” said Young.
Bill C-8 was put into law this month and will change Canada’s oath of citizenship, adding a line that will acknowledge this country’s treaties with Indigenous communities. Young agreed that this marks at least some progress on the part of the federal government.
“I do think it is a step in the right direction, but there is a lot more work to be done and it will take time,” said Young.
With the recent news of the discovery of unmarked residential school grave sites of Indigenous children in British Columbia and Saskatchewan, some on the national stage have said that this year, National Indigenous Peoples Day would be a time for reflection, not celebration. Young did not agree entirely with this sentiment.
“No, I think it’s important to celebrate our culture despite the heartache and pain of the past. Yes, it’s important to honour everyone who we lost, but we can do this by celebrating.”
Despite all of the recent national and international news coverage, some Canadians remain unfamiliar with the struggle faced by Indigenous people, and the children forced into residential schools. This can be seen as a failure of the public education system, and Young believes that education is key to understanding.
“Teachings need to be taught to educators by Elders or Indigenous people who hold true knowledge and wisdom about their culture. I was personally educated by Indigenous Elders while living in Alberta, and it truly opened my eyes, and taught me so much about my own culture that I never knew. My Social Work Degree was Indigenous-focused, so I learned a lot throughout my courses, but again much of it came directly from Elders.
“I share the knowledge that I have learned directly from these Elders. I recently did a lesson at Pasadena Elementary about Indigenous people, and taught them about the medicine wheel and did some drumming,” shared Young.
Thus Young has begun to teach the community, just as her Elders had taught her. It is through efforts like these that there is hope that the process of reconciliation can truly move forward.