National Aboriginal Day

Today is National Aboriginal Day and is also known by its French title, Journée nationale des Autochtones.  This is a day recognizing and celebrating the cultures and contributions of the First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples of Canada.

Although National Aboriginal Day is something that has been recognized since 1996, there’s a long history of Indigenous groups asking to have such a day of recognition.  In fact, back in 1982, the National Indian Brotherhood (this has since been renamed the Assembly of First Nations) called for June 21 to be recognized as National Aboriginal Solidarity Day.

The Governor General proclaimed the first National Aboriginal Day in 1996, and June 21 was agreed on as the Canadian government felt that having the day fall on summer solstice was the best date for such a day.

So here are a few “didja know” comments for those of you who would like to know more about the Aboriginal history in Canada.

Didja know that the word Canada is an Iroquois word kanata?  It means village, settlement or land.

Didja know that the word Chicago is an Algonquian word that means skunk?

Didja know that the word moose is an Abenaki word that means moose?

Didja know that today’s beloved game hockey is a Mohawk game?  Jesuit priests observed Mohawks playing a game where two teams used sticks to chase a piece of ice embedded with mud and stones.  If one of the players was hit by the ice puck, everyone would yell “Aukie!”  Over time, the rules were refined until the game became the game of hockey we all know and love so well these days.

Didja know that back in the day (before Europeans settled here) it was common for Aboriginal women to hold equal power to men?  Yes, equality was in place in Aboriginal communities long before white women were given the right to vote in elections.

Didja know that snack foods have been around far longer than you may think?  Aboriginals traveled with popcorn, jerky, pemmican and trail food, and after settlers were introduced to snacks, they adopted the same attitude towards snack foods.

Didja know that headdresses have always been earned, and that each feather represents an act of bravery?  That’s why Indigenous peoples object to having headdresses misappropriated and used as a fashion statement.

Didja know that the Inuit were the first people to create life jackets? They used dehaired sealskin jackets that they wore over their regular clothing when they hunted whales.

Didja know that Aboriginals developed sign language so that different native groups could communicate with one another even though they spoke different languages?  This was done to streamline trade negotiations between groups.  Those who were proficient in sign language were high valued in their communities, and for good reason.

Didja know that according to Statistics Canada, there are more than sixty First Nations languages in Canada, and these sixty languages are grouped into twelve distinct language families?   That’s one more reason sign language was valued.

Didja know that the Iroquois created the Great Law of Peace? It was a set of rules and procedures that were used to ease strained relations between groups and reach an agreement to NOT go to war against each other.   The role of peacekeepers was to suggest and encourage both sides to entertain all kinds of solutions to end difficult situations peacefully.

SIDE NOTE:  This was the opposite of what Europeans engaged in with the Just War Doctrine that encourage war.

Didja know that the American Constitution has precedents in Native American Indian legal practices?  Even John Adams acknowledged in writing that the Iroquois Confederacy especially embodied a set of laws and functioned on a federal structure that was incorporated into the laws and structures set out in the American Constitution.

So here’s to Aboriginal Day!  If it wasn’t for the Indigenous peoples who populated the shores of the Americas when the European first arrived, today’s world would be missing out on a great many important facets of life.

The irony of it all is that National Aboriginal Day is followed by Discovery Day (also known by its French title, Journée Découverte) on June 22 — a date that celebrates the arrival of Giovanni Caboto (John Cabot’s) traveling on the Matthew (yes, that was the name of his ship), and landing on the shorts of Newfoundland and Labrador in 1497.

Elyse Bruce


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