National Indigenous History Month is a significant commemoration in Canada that celebrates the contributions of Indigenous peoples.
It is observed in Canada every June to recognize the rich history, heritage, resilience and diversity of First Nations, Inuit and Métis.
This month-long observance plays a crucial role in fostering understanding, promoting reconciliation and raising awareness about the Indigenous experience in Canada.
When did June become National Indigenous History Month?
National Indigenous History Month was established in Canada in 2009 when the month of June was declared National Aboriginal History Month by unanimous motion in Canada’s House of Commons.
In 2017, the name was changed to National Indigenous History Month, reflecting a national preference for the term Indigenous.
Since then, every June, Canadians celebrate National Indigenous History Month to recognize the rich history, heritage, resilience and diversity of First Nations, Inuit and Métis cultures as well as their contributions to Canada.
Indigenous history in Canada
National Indigenous History Month recognizes the enduring presence and profound influence of Indigenous peoples on the land that is now known as Canada. It acknowledges the vast array of Indigenous cultures, languages, traditions and knowledge systems that have thrived across the country for thousands of years. It serves as a reminder that Indigenous histories did not begin with colonization, but have deep roots in the land, representing an unbroken connection to the past.
The month is marked by various events, educational initiatives and cultural activities that highlight Indigenous heritage and contemporary issues. Through art exhibitions, film screenings, traditional ceremonies, music performances, storytelling and workshops, Canadians have the opportunity to learn, engage and appreciate the diverse Indigenous cultures that shape the nation.
National Indigenous History Month also presents a platform for discussions on the painful legacy of colonization, residential schools, forced assimilation and the ongoing effects of systemic racism and discrimination faced by Indigenous peoples. It is a time to reflect on the injustices and the need for reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians. The month encourages dialogue, truth-sharing and the commitment to creating a more inclusive and equitable society.
Educational institutions play a vital role during this month by integrating Indigenous perspectives and histories into their curricula. By teaching students about the true history and contemporary experiences of Indigenous peoples, these institutions help to dismantle stereotypes and foster cultural understanding. Through this education, students gain a deeper appreciation for the richness of Indigenous cultures and become advocates for social justice and reconciliation.
National Indigenous History Month is also an opportunity to celebrate the achievements and contributions of Indigenous peoples across various fields, including arts, sciences, politics, sports and more. It showcases the talent, resilience and innovation of Indigenous individuals who have made significant contributions to the development and enrichment of Canadian society. By recognizing these achievements, the month reinforces the importance of inclusivity and equal opportunities for all.
While National Indigenous History Month is a time of celebration, it is important to remember that the work of reconciliation extends far beyond a single month. It requires ongoing commitment and effort from all Canadians to address the historical injustices and systemic barriers faced by Indigenous communities. By actively listening, supporting Indigenous-led initiatives and advocating for change, individuals can contribute to the process of healing and reconciliation.
For more information, see the Government of Canada’s website.
Indigenous history and Vancouver
The area known today as Vancouver, home to University Canada West, is located on the traditional, ancestral and unceded territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) and Sel̓íl̓witulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations.
The Musqueam people have lived on the Fraser River estuary for thousands of years. Musqueam’s traditional territory includes Vancouver, North Vancouver, Burrard Inlet, Richmond, Burnaby and New Westminster. They have always moved throughout the territory using the resources it provides for fishing, hunting, trapping and gathering.
Today, Musqueam is a strong, growing community of more than 1,300. Many Musqueam Indian Band members live on a small portion of traditional territory known as the Musqueam Indian Reserve.
Read more about xʷməθkʷəy̓əm history at www.musqueam.bc.ca/our-story.
The Squamish people have lived in the present-day Greater Vancouver area, Gibson’s Landing and Squamish River watershed since before recorded history. It is a complex and rich history, with ancient connections traced within their language through terms for place names and shared ceremony among the Salmon Peoples of the cedar longhouse.
Read more about Sḵwx̱wú7mesh history at www.squamish.net/about-our-nation/.
Tsleil-Waututh Nation is one of many groups of Coast Salish peoples living throughout British Columbia, Washington State and Oregon.
In BC, their traditional territory includes Burrard Inlet and the waters draining into it. Historically, in winter Tsleil-Waututh people would congregate in large villages located in sheltered bays. In spring, families would disperse and set up camps on beaches and protected coves in Tsleil-Waututh territory. In summer they, and other Coast Salish people would travel to the Fraser River to catch and dry sockeye salmon before moving to the Indian, Capilano, Seymour and other rivers to fish for pink and chum salmon in the fall. By December, the families returned to their winter villages.
Read more about Sel̓íl̓witulh history at twnation.ca/our-story.
UCW and National Indigenous Peoples Day
On June 21, National Indigenous Peoples Day is celebrated in Canada to recognize and celebrate the history, heritage, resilience and diversity of First Nations, Inuit and Métis across Canada.
In a message sent to the UCW Community on National Indigenous Peoples Day, UCW Elder in Residence Un-Thee-Ua (Rose Guerin) wrote “Together we are building a better understanding of the future for everyone.
“I encourage you to learn about the history of the Indian Residential School system through the Truth and Reconciliation website. And I encourage everyone to pause to enjoy, and to celebrate with us, the spirit of One Mind, One Heart – a time for Indigenous Peoples and Canadians to come together as one.”
Added Sheldon Levy, UCW President and Vice-Chancellor: “Throughout my career as a university administrator, I have come to truly appreciate and value the perspective of Indigenous peoples and the wisdom of their elders. Their advice to me has been invaluable on more occasions than I can count.
“Here at University Canada West, we value Indigenous culture and knowledge not only on June 21, but throughout the year. We manifest Indigenous presence at important events such as convocation, with drummers, singers and opening remarks from Indigenous elders.”
Both UCW Library locations also have National Indigenous History Month displays featuring books written by Indigenous writers.