National Indigenous Peoples Day – A Time to Celebrate
Friday June 21 is National Indigenous Peoples Day, an annual celebration that recognizes the history, contributions and cultural diversity of Canada’s First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples. Across the country, communities will gather to share stories and participate in activities that reflect on and celebrate Canada’s Indigenous cultures. The day is packed with entertainment, events and family fun. We chatted with several Urban Systems team members who have an Indigenous background about what the day means to them, and for ideas on how we can all celebrate.
Jessica Vandenberghe is an Indigenous Community Consultant and Project Engineer at Urban Systems. She has a unique background in that she is an Indigenous person who was adopted by a German family and raised by them in Northern Alberta. Jessica says she will be celebrating this year’s event by attending the North Country Fair Music festival (Driftpile, AB) which celebrates the summer solstice. She’s been going to the annual festival since she was a teenager.
“Everyone is welcome at North Country Fair. Young, old, Indigenous or not, it’s an inclusive fun and loving atmosphere. Basically, it is the happiest place on earth,” she laughs. “I encourage everyone I know to come.” Jessica now takes her own kids to the festival each year and says they love hanging out by the stage dancing to music.
“For me, National Indigenous People’s Day is a time to recognize all of the cultures and heritages that make up Canada. It’s important that we celebrate and understand our own story. We sometimes forget that Canada is incredibly diverse—we’re more than pancakes and maple syrup—we actually have over 635 different First Nations cultures, languages and traditions and this doesn’t even include the Metis or the Inuit. This is a day where our communities celebrate by sharing food, through dance competitions, ceremony, rodeo or horse racing. Communities are very welcoming and would like to share a meal with anyone, as well as the dance celebrations. If you’re not sure what to do or how to act, my advice is just to go ahead and ask—be respectful and say is it okay for me to be here? How can I help, where can I sit? It’s truly a very warm and welcoming day for all.”
Gayle is from the Xwisten St’at’imc Nation (which translates to ‘the Smiling People of Lillooet BC’) and works as a Project Coordinator with Urban Systems. Recently she’s been doing more and more consulting work and community engagement with Indigenous clients.
This year, the way Gayle celebrates National Indigenous Peoples Day will be unique. She’s headed to Fort St. John to honour her former boss, friend and mentor, Linda Thomas, who is being sworn in as a female Indigenous judge in BC.
“I thought it was wonderful that they will do her welcoming ceremony on Indigenous People’s Day,” says Gayle. In past years, Gayle has taken her kids to events around Kamloops to attend some of the different activities hosted around town on June 21. “I remember taking the kids to their first pow wow—the celebrations are open to the public and provide a lot of explanations around who the dancers are and what the dancing means. The kids loved it so much.”
“This is such a fun day because it’s a celebration of being Indigenous. Throughout my life I’ve seen the full spectrum of how Indigenous culture can be portrayed in the media. It’s not always the best picture that’s shown, but on this day, we get to celebrate who we are, learn about our culture and enjoy traditions and oral stories. It’s really meaningful. I’ve been happy to witness National Indigenous People’s Day grow into the official day it is now.”
Taylor BoucherTaylor started with Urban Systems in Kamloops as a summer intern, working with the community planning team. Today she is a Junior Community Planning Consultant. Taylor didn’t grow up in the First Nations community where her dad is from, but rather Taylor and her family lived in Quesnel about four or five hours away. As she grew older, she says she started to become more aware of her identity, and wanted to learn more. She eventually went on to pursue a double major in Anthropology and First Nations Studies. She says she always appreciated different cultures and loved learning about them and exploring her own identity. “Through school I saw different perspectives and got to meet some amazing and powerful Indigenous women who really encouraged me to keep learning. It’s a continuous journey and there’s so much to know. I want to keep making space for myself and others to continue to learn more about my culture and heritage.”
Taylor says that to her National Indigenous Peoples Day is about celebrating First Nations, Inuit and Metis culture and that it’s open for anyone willing to participate and learn. “It’s a day to reflect on resiliency and strength and recognize that although our history has some awful periods, we’re looking beyond that now and learning to heal and grow together. Really, it’s about celebrating and being proud of our identity.”
This year Taylor, along with Gayle, is working on organizing a small event at the Urban Systems Kamloops office. There will be bannock for the team, and they’ll be encouraging colleagues to explore the different events happening in Kamloops throughout the day. She says she’ll also try to attend some events in town such as the Lahal tournament. She has fond memories of volunteering at events in Quesnel with her mom when she was younger, handing out free hot dogs and watermelon pieces at the park to those celebrating the day.
For a full list of events happening across the country visit https://www.canada.ca/en/canadian-heritage/campaigns/calendar.html. Here are some of the events highlighted by Jessica, Gayle and Taylor.
Edmonton EXPO Centre event: http://www.eipfestival.ca/ (Jessica says this as a good entry level pow wow).
Edmonton – North Country Fair: https://lslncca.ca/current/