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June 20, 2024

National Indigenous Peoples Day: Celebrating Our Harmony with Nature

During the summer solstice, the Northern Hemisphere is tilted toward the sun, receiving the full glare of its rays — which means it is the longest day of the year. It occurs on either the 20th or 21st of June.

The date varies because the Gregorian calendar has 365 days, with an extra leap day added in February every four years. In reality, Earth’s orbit around the sun takes 365.25 days, according to NASA. Due to this discrepancy, the solstice does not always occur on the same day. (

Many cultures in the world have and do celebrate the solstice, with the most famous being at Stonehenge on the Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, England. In Canada we celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21st, in tandem with the solstice and in recognition of the heritage, resilience and contributions of the Indigenous Peoples of Turtle Island. They are the First Nations, Metis and Inuit recognized in the Constitution Act, 1982.

That the cosmic arrangement beyond us has guided humanity throughout its earthly existence is no small topic of discussion or inquiry. In his “Anishinabe World View and Cosmology” set down by Treaty 3 Elder Fred Kelly (Kizhebowse Mukwaa), he says:

In every direction of the sky is the eternal expanse of our cosmos in which, far beyond the human mind and eye, the physicality of life began … Sky Order Woman (Nenaikiishigok), who has been given the duty to maintain perfect harmony in the heavens, thus assigned all star beings to their places … Then she asked others to encircle the clearing that had been created by the swirling winds … This opening came to be known by the Anishinabe as Pagonekiishig meaning “Hole-in-the-Sky.”  So it was that the Anishinabe came down through Pagonekiishig and was placed on Turtle Island, the western hemisphere.

With such a powerful oral tradition and a nod to the heavens, it is the magic and mystery of the sky world that drives so much of what we do, without us even being aware of it. The solstice as one of those alignments in the sky signals a new beginning and season of life, starting afresh and leaving past burdens behind. On the ground it sees a mid-way point in the planting season, sees new life being born into this physical world in the birds, and crawlers, the four-leggeds and the insects. Everything is flourishing by summer (niibin) solstice time.

There is much to consider on this day and a multitude of subject areas to reflect on. Be it sports and sporting accomplishments, cultural repatriation, cultural resilience, natural resources, treaty, language retention, historiography, wild rice (manoomin), Residential Schools, business and economic development, or rights and resources, Indigenous people make up an essential component of the nation-state in Canada, while maintaining a separate identity.

That the history of Indigenous people in Canada went untold in their own voice for so long, other than in some very rare cases, and that their contributions remained generally poorly documented for generations has left large portions of the population uninformed on that subject. As previously mentioned there have been many Royal Commissions and Inquiries on various subjects of concern involving Indigenous Peoples but these have not focused on contributions or celebratory aspects of this demographic in Canada.

So then on June 21st we celebrate and pay homage to the many Indigenous contributions across the country that take place throughout the entire year. In the west to the east we may hear the fiddles and the Michif language, the Cree dialects, the Dene, Inuktitut, Saulteaux, Mi’kmaq; or anywhere across the land the sound of boats crossing the numerous lakes to the spring and summer camps; in the north we may witness the Inuit harvesting mussels under the ice caverns; we will read the names of countless soldiers who went across to foreign lands never to return; and we will hear the hum of an economy that churns in Indigenous communities in every corner of the land. We will say in various Indigenous languages the names of towns and cities, roads, and creeks, rivers, and numerous other place names without even considering where those words derive from.

Even the name of Canada originates from an Indigenous language!

In the urban centers we will see many young Indigenous people taking hold of their culture and putting it on display for all the world to see. At urban pow wows, in theatre, on musical stages, in bookstores, and in the art galleries our Indigenous peoples continue to make new strides daily and break new boundaries. Just as we celebrate other cultures or facets of society, so we do on June 21st, reminding ourselves that our Indigenous neighbours are truly that, for centuries in fact.

As the Senior Indigenous Engagement Advisor for Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, I encourage you to seek out the events across the region or the province, and even across the nation. If you hear the drum listen to its beat and if you smell the sage and sweetgrass let it ground you. Know that the sun (giizis) is witness to all that you say, all that you do, and all that you promise to do. It was here before we were here, and it will be here after we are gone.

Chi miigwech and Happy National Indigenous Peoples Day!

Dave Mowat
CNL Senior Indigenous Engagement Advisor

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