National Aboriginal Day or National Indigenous Day

June 13, 2016

teepees in Ottawa
Photo: Shutterstock

The implications of choosing Indigenous are significant. In October 2015, Prime Minister-designate Justin Trudeau used the term Indigenous in his victory speech when he made reference to his government’s intention for a "renewed nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous Peoples that respects rights and honours treaties".

In November 2015, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada became Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada and in May 2016, Canada officially removed its long-standing objector status and officially adopted the United Nations Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Aboriginal has been the commonly accepted collective term and legal distinction since Section 35 (2) of the Constitution Act 1982 made it so:

In this Act, "aboriginal peoples of Canada" includes the Indian, Inuit and Métis peoples of Canada.

While many, but not all, people support the concept of a collective or umbrella term to cover such a culturally diverse segment of the population, it is a necessity for the constitutional distinctions of rights and for general discourse.

Non-government organizations are beginning to make the change from Aboriginal to Indigenous. For example, CBCNews | Aboriginal is now CBCNews | Indigenous, Aboriginal Nurses Association of Canada is now the Canadian Indigenous Nurses Association.

So, is it time to change to National Indigenous Day? And by extension, rename National Aboriginal History Month to National Indigenous History Month? Legally, we will always have Aboriginal in the Constitution but politically and socially it looks as though the country is trending towards Indigenous.

UPDATE: On June 21, 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the government's intention to make the change to National Indigenous Peoples Day.

In case you are wondering about our stance we use Indigenous - it’s in our company name - Indigenous Corporate Training Inc. and it’s in the title of our training “Working Effectively with Indigenous Peoples®” and “Indigenous Consultation and Engagement”.

Background on National Indigenous Day

The same year Aboriginal Peoples of Canada was defined in Section 35(2), the National Indian Brotherhood (now known as the Assembly of First Nations) called for a creation of a National Aboriginal Solidarity Day on June 21, to coincide with the summer solstice, a day of traditional significance to Indigenous Peoples. In 1995, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples recommended a day be designated as National First Peoples Day. The Sacred Assembly, a national conference of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people chaired by the late Elijah Harper, called for a national holiday to celebrate the contributions of Aboriginal Peoples in Canada.

In 1996, Governor General Romeo LeBlanc proclaimed that National Aboriginal Day would be celebrated on June 21 each year. "On June 21st, this year and every year, Canada will honour the native peoples who first brought humanity to this great land," said Leblanc. "And may the first peoples of our past always be full and proud partners in our future."

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