WHAT IS NATIONAL ABORIGINAL DAY?
National Aboriginal Day is celebrated every year on June 21 (summer solstice). This day is set aside to acknowledge the diverse cultures, heritage and achievements of the First Nations, Inuit and Métis people of Canada. It is a day of observance across the country except for the Northwest Territories where it is considered a statutory holiday.
WHO ARE THE INDIGENOUS PEOPLE OF CANADA?
The term “indigenous people” generally refers to the descendants of the people who had the earliest historical connection to any particular geographical area and who share a common sense of identity. There are an estimated 370 million indigenous people living around the world today.
Our students may sometimes hear outdated terms for Canadian indigenous people or perhaps confuse the meanings of the appropriate terms. The following definitions may be used to teach students how to use current language when referring to the Indigenous peoples of Canada:
- Aboriginal: a term defined in the Constitution act of 1982 that refers to all indigenous people in Canada, including status and non-status “Indians” (as identified by the Indian Act), Métis and Inuit people.
- First Nations: the self-determined political and organizational unit of the aboriginal community that has the power to negotiate, on a government-to-government basis, with BC and Canada.
- Métis: a person of French and Aboriginal ancestry belonging to or descended from the people who established themselves in the Red, Assiniboine and Saskatchewan River Valleys during the nineteenth century, forming a cultural group distinct from both European and Aboriginal peoples.
- Inuit: aboriginal peoples whose origins are different from people known as “North American Indians.” The Inuit generally live in northern Canada and Alaska. Inuit has, in recent years, replaced the term Eskimo.
These definitions are on page 8 of the document “In Our Own Words: Bringing Authentic First Peoples Content to the K-3 Classroom” produced by the advisory team for the First Nations Education Steering Committee in BC. The document is available online at www.fnesc.ca.
WHAT IS THE HISTORY OF NATIONAL ABORIGINAL DAY?
The National Indian Brotherhood (now the Assembly of First Nations) petitioned the Canadian government (1982) to establish a National Aboriginal Solidarity Day. The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (1995) asked that a National First Peoples Day be recognized. In 1996 the Government of Canada declared June 21 to be National Aboriginal Day.
Did You Know? There are 23 unique languages across Canada (up to 50 when you count unique dialects). Fifteen of the larger language groups are in British Columbia, making it the most diverse language area in Canada. (p.18, First Nations 101 by Lynda Gray)
HOW IS THE DAY CELEBRATED?
Many different kinds of events and celebrations are planned across the country. Some of the activities in 2012 included:
- displays and demonstrations of traditional and contemporary art, crafts, music, dancing, games and sports
- barbecues and feasts
A quick check on the Internet will help you discover some of the 2013 events in your province or territory. Here are two of the many already listed:
- Summer Solstice Aboriginal Arts Festival (Friday, June 21 – Sunday, June 23). This is a free event at the Vincent Massey Park in Ottawa. Many free family activities are available as well as the chance to see singers and dancers competing in the Annual International Competition Pow Wow.
- Glooscap Heritage Centre: Truro Nova Scotia (June 21). Admission to the centre is free. The day will include guest speakers, music, dancing and singing. Interpreters will also be available to answer questions.
Did You Know? Indigenous Nations: There are 45 unique Nations within the borders of Canada, plus the Inuit and Métis. (p.17, First Nations 101 by Lynda Gray)
HOW CAN SCHOOLS CELEBRATE NATIONAL ABORIGINAL DAY?
Over the years I have seen school communities celebrate Aboriginal Day in a variety of ways. Students performing in the gym, listening to aboriginal storytellers, watching aboriginal artists and dancers demonstrate their talents, participating in big house ceremonies, feasting on salmon and fry bread, and making button blankets and drums are just a few of the memorable events that have taken place.
Stories are always a good starting place for classroom and school-wide activities. There are a number of excellent titles, suitable for a variety of ages, listed on our book review pages this month.
Whether you are planning a simple activity for your own classroom or an event for the entire school, there is one key thing you might consider: children of all ages and from all cultures love to eat! What better way to celebrate Aboriginal Day than by sharing food? Here is a resource that you may find useful when planning such an event.
Granny’s Giant Bannock
by Brenda Wastasecoot
Pemmican Publications, 2008
ISBN 978-189471749-6 (pb)
$10.95, 39 pp, ages 6 – 9
Granny travels by bus from Thompson to Brandon, Manitoba to visit her grandson Larf. As Granny speaks Cree and understands very little English and Larf speaks English and understands very little Cree, they rely on a few simple words, hand signals and body language to communicate. One morning, before heading off to class at the university, Larf makes a trip to the grocery store to get Granny some Machik Baking Powder. Granny does not recognize the brand of baking powder that he brings home. Unable to read the English directions, she uses five heaping tablespoons as she usually does. Needless to say, the resulting bannock rises to gigantic proportions. It rolls down the hallway, out the door and down the street and then east towards the grocery store. With police cars and fire engines following close behind, the bannock comes to rest in the parking lot. While the fire fighters carve a hole in the bannock to release the people who have been trapped in the dough, the bannock bakes in the hot sun. The book ends with the townspeople gathering with tea and lawn chairs to join the giant feast!
Bannock is part of the diet of many Aboriginal peoples in North America. There are variations on the recipe depending on the type of flour used and whether other ingredients are added (e.g., nuts, raisins, seeds, fruit). Granny’s bannock recipe is printed here with permission of the publisher. It tastes great with jam, honey or marmalade.
- 6 cups (1.5 L) flour
- 3 tablespoons (45 mL) baking powder (not yeast)
- 1 tablespoon (15 mL) salt
- 1 cup (250 mL) lard
- 3 – 4 cups (750 mL – 1 L ) warm water
Into a large bowl, pour 6 cups of flour. Mix flour, baking powder and salt together. Make a hole in the middle and put in 1 cup of lard (slightly softened). With your hands, mix flour and lard together until the flour mixture absorbs most of the lard. Add the water gradually, and work it into a dough so it is no longer sticky but also not too dry. Spread the dough out on a large cookie sheet; poke holes in it with a fork. Preheat the oven to about 350 F (170 C) and bake for about 20 minutes or until golden brown, turning it over halfway.
DVD: 8th Fire (available through the CBC online shop)
Hosted by Wab Kinew, 8th Fire was first aired as a documentary mini-series on CBC television. The series focusses on positive ways to develop relationships between Aboriginal and Non Aboriginal peoples. It also introduces some of the leaders (in fields that include art, music and business) from the younger generation of Aboriginal Canadians.
Although the title of this document is “Learning Strategies for Aboriginal Students” the content is appropriate and of benefit to all learners.
The BC Aboriginal Learning Outcomes K-12 are available in PDF format at this site.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Brenda Boreham is a regular contributor to Canadian Teacher Magazine and the author of 28 titles in a new Guided Reading series from Strong Nations Publishing.
Terri Mack has worked in Aboriginal education for 20 years and is currently the owner of Strong Nations Publishing. Terri’s intention for Strong Nations is to provide information to support and hopefully transform the lives of Indigenous peoples by providing access to, and demonstrating the use of, Indigenous text in literacy acquisition. It is her hope that Indigenous content can be brought into the lives of all peoples to create pathways that support the building of strong nations together.
This article is from Canadian Teacher Magazine’s May/June 2013 issue.