TINA HOUSE | For CWA Canada
I hear the drums beating and the songs carrying the voices of our ancestors. I see the jingle dresses and vibrant colours of regalia with intricate beadwork flashing in the sun as the fancy dancers glide through the air, moving as light as a feather.
Then I hear the fiddles and guitars playing as the Métis — proudly wearing their ribbon shirts, sashes and moccasins made of moose hide — jig to the music.
In the North, throat singers lock arms, look into each other’s eyes and, breathing in deep, make incredible sounds that only they can. Large handheld drums are pounding as the young and old dance together, wearing fur-lined anoraks made from seal skin.
When I close my eyes, this is what I see when I think about National Indigenous Day.
With different cultures, languages and history, we are the three distinct Indigenous peoples of Canada: Métis, First Nations and Inuit. Despite our uniqueness we are one people and the original inhabitants of this land.
National Indigenous Peoples Day means many things to many people. But for most, it’s a day to be together and reflect on the beauty of who we are.
It’s a day to meet with friends, family and enjoy traditional food. It always includes a lot of laughter.
National Indigenous Peoples Day is when we celebrate who we are and who we are going to be.
For non-Indigenous people, it’s a day to learn about our incredible cultures, languages and history.
Officially announced in 1996 as National Aboriginal Day, it evolved into National Indigenous Day to reflect the diverse population that is the backbone of Canada. It has become a nationwide celebration that takes place on June 21 in cities, towns, Métis settlements, territories and reservations across the country.
However, if you ask any Indigenous person, every day is actually Indigenous Day.
This will be the first time that we can come together after a two-year hiatus due to COVID. Like many other gatherings, this year there is hope — hope that reconnecting will strengthen our communities once again.
When I reflect on what has happened in the last few years, that strength that we yearn for is needed now more than ever.
It was one year ago on May 6 that the announcement came that 215 small, shallow hidden graves were discovered at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. That news shook the world.
Since then, close to 10,000 more unmarked potential graves have been located across Canada.
We must ask ourselves: How could this have happened?
As a video journalist with APTN National News for the last 15 years, I’ve covered thousands of stories. Most recently I travelled to Italy with the Indigenous delegation to meet with Pope Francis. It was an incredible experience on so many levels, but mostly to witness 85-year-old Métis residential school survivor Angie Crerar who travelled to Rome to tell her truth to the Holy See.
The skies were cloudy with a cool wind as all the media huddled close to her after she emerged from the Vatican. Angie, a small woman in stature, seemed like a giant that day. She spoke with such a strong, clear voice and said “They did not break us! We are still here and will be here forever!”
It’s those words that will remain with me the rest of my life when I look back at that historic trip. I am also still so proud of witnessing our leaders represent our Nations with such power and grace. That hard work culminated in an apology by the Pope for what happened at residential schools.
With over 150,000 kids forcibly removed from their homes to attend residential schools, there is still much healing to do. However, reconciliation must also include reconciliACTION. Many have said that begins with educating Canadians on what has happened to Indigenous people, what continues to happen and how we can make positive changes.
The impending visit from Pope Francis in late July is seen as a chance at healing, but the survivors I spoke with say it’s just the beginning of a long journey.
Despite everything Indigenous people have been through, we have held our heads high, with a quiet strength and powerful spirit. We have survived and thrived.
So, this National Indigenous Day, it’s not only a time to come together, but to reflect on the past and embrace all that this day means and truly celebrate the First Peoples of Canada.
“My people will sleep for 100 years and when they awaken it will be the artists that give them their spirit back.” — Louis Riel
(Tina House, a member of CWA Canada/Canadian Media Guild, is a proud Métis and multi-award-winning video journalist for APTN National News. She recently became the first Indigenous person to win the Canadian Screen Award for Best National Reporter. She is also a guest correspondent for CTV National News.)