By Tara Henley
BELLEVILLE – National Aboriginal Day is a time for cultural awareness and celebration in the Tyendinaga community, says the director of the Tsi Tyonnheht Onwawenna Language & Cutural Centre, Callie Hill.
“People look forward to that day,” she said. “It’s a time to share meals, play games and just have fun.”
This Saturday, June 21, will be the 19th annual National Aboriginal Day in Canada. Previously titled National Aboriginal Solidarity Day, it is an occasion to recognize the accomplishments, contributions and heritage of Métis, Inuit and First Nations peoples throughout the country.
This June also marks Canada’s fifth National Aboriginal History Month. There is an 11-day-long celebration starting with National Aboriginal Day and lasting through St. Jean Baptiste Day on June 24 and Multiculturalism Day on June 27, then ending with Canada Day on July 1.
Hill has organized a celebration taking place this Saturday at Tsi Tkeritoten Park on Bayshore Road. The celebration will include live entertainment, a potluck lunch, canoe races and a parade.
Jan Hill, the marshal of the parade, said the event “lets us celebrate with friends and neighbours, and it’s open to everyone to come and join.”
She said she has noticed that most Canadians consider National Aboriginal Day to be a type of “First Nations awareness day.”
“It informs the general public,” she said. “It gives them a chance to better understand our culture, traditions, languages and history. It makes Canadians pay attention to us.”
Paul Latchford, co-ordinator of aboriginal services at the Aboriginal Resource Centre in Loyalist College, says he believes people have a “natural curiosity” when it comes to aboriginal cultures.
“People seem to be interested, and this day is about informing them. We don’t want history to repeat itself – but we’re not looking for sympathy,” he added. “We’re just looking for empathy.”
Asked what would happen without a National Aboriginal Day, Latchford replied, “It would be a sad day for Canada and society as a whole. People would forget.”
Callie Hill says she believes without National Aboriginal Day, the Tyendinaga community wouldn’t be drastically affected because “we’d still find ways to celebrate our culture in our community.”
“We don’t celebrate (National Aboriginal Day just) because it’s sanctioned by the government,” she said.
Latchford said National Aboriginal Day is supposed to be about recognition of indigenous peoples throughout history.
“There are different sides to different stories,” he said. “And this is ours.”