National Aboriginal Day was first introduced and proclaimed in 1996 by the Governor General of Canada. June 21st is the day officially recognized as National Aboriginal Day. While celebrated in various activities around the country, the day was not celebrated as an official statutory holiday anywhere in Canada until 2001, when the Northwest Territories became the first to recognize the day as a formal territorial statutory holiday. In May of 2017, the Yukon passed legislation making this day an official statutory holiday. Yukon and Northwest Territories have both passed this legislation; it is now time for the Province of British Columbia and the rest of Canada take note of the voices calling for change and officially recognize this important day as an official statutory holiday.
In addition to the above, in June of 2017 the federal government pledged to change the name of National Aboriginal Day to National Indigenous Peoples Day,1 a move that is supported by the Assembly of First Nations and is being applauded by many.
Currently, the Government of British Columbia has shown openness in finding ways to move forward in reconciliation through passing the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act which has created a process to align BC’s laws with the UN Declaration.
- In 1996, the Governor General of Canada proclaimed June 21st as National Aboriginal Day. In cooperation with Indigenous Peoples’ national organizations, the Government of Canada designated June 21 National Indigenous Peoples Day, a celebration of Indigenous Peoples’ culture and heritage. This date was chosen because it corresponds to the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, and because for generations, many Indigenous Peoples’ groups have celebrated their culture and heritage at this time of year.
- June 15, 2017 NDP MP Georgina Jolibois tabled Bill C-361, calling for National Aboriginal Day to be a statutory holiday:
“Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to introduce a bill that seeks to turn National Aboriginal Day into a statutory holiday. When this day was first declared a holiday, the National Indian Brotherhood— today’s Assembly of First Nations—wanted a day to honour the indigenous peoples of this land. Designating this day as a national holiday is an important step and an opportunity to celebrate the cultures, languages, and contributions of the first nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples in Canada. This timely bill answers one of the TRC’s calls to action, that Canada create a statutory holiday to honour residential school survivors, their families, and communities.”
- Among the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s 94 Calls to Action (the “TRC Report”), is the call to create a new, national, statutory holiday: The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. The TRC’s calls to action specifically advocates for participation from the corporate sector. Call to Action #92 states Canada’s corporate sector should “Provide education for management and staff on the history of Aboriginal peoples, including the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and Aboriginal-Crown relations. This will require skills- based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights and anti-racism.”
- By recognizing Indigenous Peoples Day as a statutory holiday, business owners and employees can show their respect for Indigenous cultures in Canada.
- In 2018, the BC Chamber of Commerce provincial network adopted a resolution submitted by the Prince Rupert & District Chamber to ‘Implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People’ (UNDRIP). The policy recommends using UNDRIP as the basis for reviewing and reforming laws and policies in BC, and to work with Chambers of Commerce to ensure the standards in the Declaration are incorporated into human rights policies and business practices.
THE CHAMBER RECOMMENDS
That the Federal Government:
- Propose legislation to recognize National Indigenous Peoples Day as a statutory holiday.
That the Provincial Government:
- Support the federal government recognition of National Indigenous People’s Day as a statutory holiday as a step forward to implement this UN Declaration.
Assembly of First Nations, (2016) FINAL DRAFT RESOLUTIONS retrieved from http://www.afn.ca/uploads/files/2016-aga/16-07-08_afn_aga_2016_draft_resolutions_-_for_distribution.pdf.
BC Chamber of Commerce. (2019, October 25). BC Chamber Applauds New Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act. Retrieved from BC Chamber of Commerce: https://bcchamber.org/news/bc-chamber-applauds-new-declaration-on-the-rights-of- indigenous-peoples-act/
Government of British Columbia. (2021). BC Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act. Retrieved from Government of British Columbia: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/governments/indigenous-people/new- relationship/united-nations-declaration-on-the-rights-of-indigenous-peoples
Government of Canada, (2018) National Indigenous Peoples Day – Celebrate Canada days 2018 retrieved from https://www.canada.ca/en/canadian-heritage/campaigns/celebrate-canada-days/aboriginal-day.html.
Jolibois, G. (2017). Bill C-361. Parliament of Canada retrieved from http://www.parl.ca/DocumentViewer/en/42-1/bill/C-361/first-reading.
Maloney, R. (2017) National Aboriginal Day To See Name Change Going Forward, Trudeau Says, Huffington Post. retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2017/06/21/national-aboriginal- day-to-see-name-change-going-forward-trudea_a_22528142/.
Ward, J., (2017) Why Isn’t National Aboriginal Day a Statutory Holiday?. Globe and Mail retrieved from https://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/small-business/sb- managing/why-isnt-national-aboriginal-day-a-statutory-holiday/article30418711/.
Yukon Government, (2017) National Aboriginal Day becomes a statutory holiday in Yukon http://www.gov.yk.ca/news/17-098.html.
1 See Assembly of First Nations – Final Draft Resolutions (2016) for terminology definition as proposed by the United Nations