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What led to the creation of National Indigenous Peoples Day and National Indigenous History Month?

June 20, 2024

The summer solstice is traditionally a time of spiritual and cultural significance for Indigenous communities. The longer hours of sunlight and warmer temperatures signify new beginnings. Ceremonies, feasts and rituals have been celebrated on the summer solstice for thousands of years.

In the early 1980s, rallies across Canada were held in support of Indigenous rights within the federal government, and calls for self-governance were supported by a group called the Aboriginal Rights Coalition. By 1982, the Assembly of First Nations (then called the National Indian Brotherhood) formally advocated for a National Solidarity Day as a chance to recognize the founding Indigenous Peoples and the unique cultures and traditions of their communities.

In 1990, Quebec become the first provincial government in Canada to recognize June 21 as a day for celebrating Indigenous culture. Five years later, Elijah Harper gathered more than 2,000 people in Hull, Quebec for the Sacred Assembly, a meeting focused on reconciliation and unity. During the three-day event, Indigenous and non-Indigenous participants urged the federal government to establish a national holiday to celebrate the contributions of Indigenous Peoples. That same year, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples also recommended the designation of a National First Peoples Day.

In 1996 the Governor General of Canada, Romeo LeBlanc, proclaimed June 21 as National Aboriginal Day, a day of honouring the diverse history, culture and contributions of Canada’s First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.

In 2007, the president of Regina Aboriginal Professionals Association, Joely BigEagle-Kequahtooway of White Bear First Nations, observed the successes of National Aboriginal Day and Black History Month and campaigned for support for a month to celebrate Indigenous culture. The Government of Saskatchewan and the City of Regina both approved the idea and proclaimed June as Aboriginal History Month, becoming the first province and city in Canada to do so. By 2008, a BC MP introduced a motion in the House of Commons to designate June as National Aboriginal History Month. The original motion failed, however received unanimous consent when re-introduced in 2009, following Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s 2008 apology for the Indian Residential School system.

In 2017, National Aboriginal History Month was renamed National Indigenous History Month and National Aboriginal Day was renamed National Indigenous Peoples Day to be consistent with the terminology used in the United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.