June 21: Summer Solstice — National Indigenous Peoples Day

Profound political and constitutional renewal is needed to redress crimes against Indigenous Peoples

By Philip Fernandez

June 21, National Indigenous Peoples Day, formerly known as National Aboriginal Day, was proclaimed in 1996 by then Governor General Roméo LeBlanc. The Governor General’s proclamation noted that the Summer Solstice had particular “symbolic” significance for Indigenous peoples and had thus been selected as the occasion for National Aboriginal Day. He stated: “Aboriginal peoples of Canada have made and continue to make valuable contributions to Canadian society and it is considered appropriate that there be, in each year, a day to mark and celebrate these contributions and to recognize the different cultures of the Aboriginal peoples of Canada.”

In 2017, on National Aboriginal Day, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the change to National Indigenous Peoples Day “in the spirit of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.” He also stated that the building that housed the Prime Minister’s office, called the Langevin Block, would be renamed. He justified the removal of the name of Hector-Louis Langevin, a father of Confederation and a prominent member of Sir John A. Macdonald’s cabinet, on the basis that it was Langevin who proposed the idea of the residential school system as the quickest way to assimilate Indigenous children into Canadian society. “There is a deep pain in knowing that building carries a name so closely associated with the horror of residential schools,” Trudeau said. “Keeping that name on the Prime Minister’s office is inconsistent with the values of our government, and it’s inconsistent with our vision of a strong partnership with Indigenous peoples in Canada.” Earlier that day, the Prime Minister put out a statement which in part stated, “No relationship is more important to Canada than the relationship with Indigenous Peoples. Our government is working together with Indigenous Peoples to build a nation-to-nation, Inuit-Crown, government-to-government relationship – one based on respect, partnership, and recognition of rights.”

Actions speak louder than words and the brutal record of abuse and violence of the Trudeau Liberals vis-à-vis the rights of Indigenous peoples over the last six years shows that while his name might have been removed, the ghost of Hector-Louis Langevin is alive and well in the Prime Minister’s Office.

On May 27, the disturbing news of the discovery of the remains of 215 Indigenous children buried on the grounds of the former Kamloops Residential School confirmed what many already knew, including through testimony to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, still shocking Canadians and people around the world by its magnitude. Trudeau has yet to take responsibility for this crime by the Canadian state. He sloughed off the responsibility to the Catholic Church in order to distance the state from any responsibility. This covers up the fact that the Catholic Church was contracted, along with other churches and funded by successive Canadian governments to “civilize” and indoctrinate 150,000 Indigenous children in 130 such schools. They worked in tandem with the RCMP who forcefully abducted these children from their families, as part of what Duncan Campbell Scott, Deputy-Superintendent General of Indian Affairs called “the final solution of our Indian Problem.”

Prime Minister Trudeau and Minister for Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett even tried to suggest that all this was part of Canada’s past in order to cover up the ongoing racist and colonial policies of the Liberals. They, along with the other cartel parties, have pushed through parliament Bill C-15, An Act respecting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which aims to put a UN seal of approval on the Canadian state’s ongoing efforts to extinguish the rights and title of the Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island.

The genocide continues. Under the watch of the Trudeau Liberals, who in the 2015 election campaigned to give priority to the rights of Indigenous peoples, they continue to be dispossessed of their lands, as in the case of the We’suwet’en on the west coast; and deprived of their livelihoods, as in the case of Mi’kmaq fishers on the east coast. Even as the repercussions of the Sixties Scoop continue to be felt in the present, Indigenous families are denied the conditions to provide stability for themselves and continue to be ripped apart by systematic mass removal of children into the child welfare system. There are said to be more Indigenous children in the child welfare system today than there were in residential schools or than were affected by the Sixties Scoop. Indigenous peoples make up only five per cent of the population in Canada. Yet more than 52 per cent of all children in foster care are Indigenous. Indigenous youth commit suicide at rates more than three times the national average. Suicide rates for Inuit children and youth are 33 per cent higher than non-Indigenous children. Close to 50 per cent of Indigenous children are living in poverty and like the previous Harper Conservative government, the Liberals continue to deny the treaty rights of Indigenous children and their families to basic services such as education, health care and clean water.

It is unconscionable that the Liberals continue to legally challenge the 2019 ruling of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal that 50,000 Indigenous children who were victims of federal government abuse and neglect are entitled to $40,000 each in compensation.

National Indigenous Peoples Day 2021 is taking place at a time when Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island are intensifying the battle for their rights on all fronts, with the militant support of the Canadian people who want to see an end to the ongoing state-organized racism and genocide against the Indigenous peoples of this land. The hypocritical remarks and platitudes by the Trudeau government on the occasion of National Indigenous Peoples Day 2021 will further underscore Canada’s refusal to acknowledge and uphold Indigenous rights and sovereignty.

National Indigenous People’s Day 2021 brings to the fore the urgent necessity for profound political changes in this country to end this state of affairs. By joining with Indigenous peoples and fighting for political renewal and a modern democratic constitution, which put the rights of the people front and centre, including upholding the sovereignty and rights of the Indigenous peoples and the Quebec Nation, this old colonial and racist Canada can be left behind and a bright prosperous future for all built. Constitutional and political renewal is the pre-condition for true reconciliation between Indigenous peoples, Canada and Quebec.(With files from the CBC, Statistics Canada, Canadian Association of Mental Health, Government of Canada)

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Summer Solstice and National Indigenous Peoples Day

Summer Solstice celebrations in Kinawit, Val d’Or, June 21, 2019

On June 21 the Indigenous peoples lead celebrations across the country of the Summer Solstice, an occasion which from 1996 to 2018 was officially known as National Aboriginal Day and is now National Indigenous Peoples Day. The Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year has been a time for Indigenous peoples to gather and commemorate since time immemorial.

In recent years, National Indigenous Peoples Day has also been an occasion for First Nations, Métis and Inuit people, joined by Canadians and Quebeckers of all walks of life, to engage in actions to affirm their rights in the face of the colonial arrangements and relations the federal government continues to impose.

In Quebec, the Summer Solstice celebration is “an expression of exchange and friendship amongst nations living in Quebec.” A “Solstice of the Nations” is held by the Indigenous nations with a Fire Ceremony “to encourage closer ties amongst the peoples living on Quebec territory,” so that “the coals of that fire light up the bonfire of the Great Show of Quebec’s National Celebration on the Plains of Abraham.” This refers to the National Day of Quebec celebrated on June 24.

The origins of celebrations on or around June 21-24 are ancient and varied. Among the original peoples the Summer Solstice, which according to the Julian calendar falls on June 24, was celebrated by bonfires symbolizing the life-giving power of the sun. Today, these bonfires persist as the oldest symbol of these celebrations. In addition to being a ritual to mark the change of seasons, the ancient celebrations were also a milestone in the agricultural production cycle — the beginning of arduous work on the land, which would be completed by the end of summer.

The celebration of Quebec’s National Day, established by Quebec patriot Ludger Duvernay, publisher of the patriot newspaper La Minerve; and the elected members of the Patriot Party, fell on the same date as Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day but was not the same. In fact Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day had been introduced long before by the King of France and the Catholic high clergy in the colonies of the French empire in opposition to the June 21 Summer Solstice celebrated by the Indigenous peoples.

In Catholic France during medieval times, the celebration known as Saint John the Baptist Day, took its name from the sanctuaries established by the Catholic Church to fight paganism. It was brought to the colonies of the French empire in opposition to the Summer Solstice celebrated by the Indigenous Nations around the same date. The Church, through the Council of Trent (1545-1563) attempted to Christianize that custom, a celebration of light around a joyous bonfire, by replacing it with a portrayal of submission in the person of Saint John the Baptist, “the lamb of God.” In line with this, Monseigneur de Saint-Vallier, in his 1702 Catechism for the Diocese of Quebec, directed at the Canadiens, noted that the Catholic Church in the New World considered the Summer Solstice ceremony acceptable so long as the “dances and superstitions” of the Indigenous peoples were banished.

It was not until 1908 that Pope Pius X named Saint John the Baptist the patron saint of “French Canadians,” advocating the division of the Canadian people into so-called French and English Canadians, which the British empire was so determined to impose. Sixty years later, on June 24, 1968 and 1969, at a time the resurgence of Quebec’s movement for independence and people’s sovereignty was in full swing, this symbol of division and submission was swept aside and, once again, the National Day celebration saw the people joyfully dancing around a bonfire.

Summer Solstice celebrations on the occasion of National Indigenous Peoples Day 2019 in Saguenay and Quebec City.

(Photos: Val-d’Or Native Friendship Centre, Saguenay Native Friendship Centre, Quebec City Native Friendship Centre)

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Filed under Canada, History, Indigenous Peoples

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