1. National Aboriginal Day has been celebrated in Canada since 1996. It has been instituted to celebrate the diverse culture and heritage of the citizens identified as aboriginals. It also acknowledges their contribution to Canada. The summer solstice, which occurs on June 21st , was an important day for the original inhabitants of the land, so this day has been designated as National Aboriginal Day.
2. The term ‘aboriginal’ refers to the groups of people who have descended from the populations who were living in the country when the Europeans first arrived. The largest group was formerly called ‘ the Indians’, but is now referred to as First Nations. The Inuit live in the northernmost parts of Canada, and constitute the next group. The Metis are descendants of mixed heritage. There were approximately 1.4 million aboriginal people in Canada in 2011.
3. National Aboriginal Day came about after a series of events. The idea was initiated in 1982, when the National Indian Brotherhood wanted a National Aboriginal Solidarity Day.
4. Many years later, in 1995, a recommendation to celebrate National First Peoples Day was made by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples.
5. In the same year, the Conference of Aboriginal and non- Aboriginal People was held. It was also called the Sacred Assembly. It was chaired by Elijah Harper who was an outstanding leader of the First Nations. This conference called for a national holiday to acknowledge the aboriginal contribution to the country. All these events led to the birth of National Aboriginal Day.
6. The government of Canada has accepted the call for National Aboriginal Day, partly as a measure to redress the historical grievances of the aboriginal people. The aboriginals in Canada have not had the same violent engagement with European settlers as their counterparts in USA, but they have nonetheless lost their way of life and their territories, due to various government policies, or neglect. In the early 20th century, their children were forcibly put in boarding schools, so that they would assimilate the culture and religion of the Canadian Christians. In other instances, the Inuit people were forced to re-locate. There are many more examples of discrimination. In recent years, there have been initiatives to acknowledge these grave injustices, such as the statement of apology made by the Prime Minister, in 2008, to former students of the boarding schools.
7. The aboriginal people have a long history of service in Canada’s defence forces. They were present in large numbers in the War of 1812. They volunteered for service in Canada’s armed forces during World War I, and fought in every battle where Canadian troops participated. Hundreds were wounded or killed, and many won awards for bravery. On National Aboriginal Day, their service to the country is honoured.
8. In 2009, the House of Commons passed a unanimous motion declaring June as National Aboriginal History month. Canadians acknowledge and celebrate the contribution of the aboriginal people to Canadian society, and get better acquainted with their culture and heritage through exhibitions, concerts and other programs. National Aboriginal Day is the highlight of the National Aboriginal History Month.
9. National Aboriginal Day is celebrated across Canada in different ways. Cultural events featuring traditional dance and music are common. Other events include summer solstice festivals, pow wow competitions, feasts serving traditional foods and fire extinguishing ceremonies. Performances of contemporary dance and music and barbeques are held, as well.
10. Though all government departments support National Aboriginal Day, the Department of Canadian Heritage and the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northwestern Development provide funding and resources. This day is a part of the Celebrate Canada program which includes Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day, Canadian Multicultural Day and ends with Canada Day on July 1st .