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As summer finally starts to shine, we're reminded of the importance and cultural significance of this time of year. June is National Indigenous History Month, a time in which we as a country and community can focus individual and collective efforts toward better understanding the Indigenous communities and land that surrounds us. Of course, this awareness shouldn't be limited solely to the month of June, but it can serve as a reminder to check-in with ourselves and our communities to recognize the important work and education that's being done year-round.
There are many things we can do on our own and as communities to celebrate the Indigenous cultures that surround us. Here are Scout’s tips on how to celebrate National Indigenous Month.
6 Ways to Appropriately Celebrate National Indigenous History Month
1 | Know Whose Land You’re On
While most of us know the names of all the provinces and territories in Canada, something most of us weren’t taught in school is the Indigenous names for the territory we occupy or the treaties that cover our land. For example, Toronto is known as Tkaronto which is the Mohawk word for “trees standing in water” - a reference to the weirs constructed in Lake Ontario and its waterways by the Iroquois (or Haudenosaunee) and other Indigenous Peoples to catch fish.
Knowing whose land you’re on is important as it provides a stark education on colonialism and helps us to know how to move forward with settler-Indigenous relations. It’s a way to recognize the past and acknowledge the importance of future relationships with Indigenous communities.
Native Land said it best in that “land is something sacred to all of us.” To find out which Indigenous territory you live on, you can use the Native-Land tool. It’s a great resource sharing the territory you reside on as well as the treaties that cover the land you’re on and the languages from your area. We even recommend using this tool when you travel outside of your area, perhaps on a holiday up north or in another province. It’s one way to better understand and respect the history of those that came before us and of the land we occupy.
2 | Learn About Culture and Customs of Indigenous Folks
Understanding the culture and customs of the Indigenous communities that surround us is important in the journey of reparations. Reading Indigenous Literature, either fiction or nonfiction is one way to immerse yourself in their worlds. It not only provides you with wonderful, though often heartbreaking and eye opening stories to learn, it will also expose you to Indigenous language as well as Indigenous culture. You’ll find extensive Indigenous collections at local book shops such as Queen Books, Indigenous Owned Raven Reads and at the Toronto Public Library. Leah (Scout shop owner) has been updating a link to some of her favourite Indigenous books and podcasts here if you are looking for some inspiration on where to get started.
We also recommend signing up for a walking tour in your city, preferably hosted by an elder in your community though there are often self guided tours available. This is a great way to understand more about the history and Indigenous culture in your area. Philip Cote (Indigenous Ancestral knowledge keeper, historian and artist) has hosted medicine walks in Toronto in the past. They're an opportunity to understand the history of plant knowledge as well as to break down misrepresentations about Indigenous life.
3 | Understand What Allyship to Indigenous People Looks Like
As people working towards allyship, we must understand that it is not the job of Indigenous People to teach us how to be allies. Individuals should not expect that all Indigenous People are experts on all things Indigenous, or that they have the time and energy to teach. As allies, it is our responsibility to find resources and educate ourselves on these matters so that we can be confident that we are doing the work that we need to do as allies.
An outline of allyship and responsibilities by an Anishinaabe-kwe scholar can be found in the Ally Bill of Responsibilities (a PDF file that is available for download). This is important to review if one is concerned about practicing allyship appropriately.
4 | Learn About Indigenous History
In the wake of the 2020 protests surrounding racial justice in the US and Canada, the University of Alberta decided to add to the conversation in a positive way by making its course on Indigenous Cultures free to the public.
The course is described as: Indigenous Canada is a 12-lesson Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) from the Faculty of Native Studies that explores the different histories and contemporary perspectives of Indigenous Peoples living in Canada. From an Indigenous perspective, this course explores complex experiences Indigenous Peoples face today from a historical and critical perspective highlighting national and local Indigenous-settler relations. Topics for the 12 lessons include the fur trade and other exchange relationships, land claims and environmental impacts, legal systems and rights, political conflicts and alliances, Indigenous political activism, and contemporary Indigenous life, art and its expressions.
5 | Support Indigenous Businesses, Services, and Creators
One of the best and most direct ways to support Indigenous Peoples is by supporting their work. This is especially easy in Toronto where we are surrounded by a wealth of Indigenous talent. You can take a tour of the AGO to explore the work of Kent Monkman; you can stop at PowWow Cafe in Kensington for a snack; you can shop Sḵwálwen Botanicals, Indigo Arrows, and Beam Paints here at Scout or browse the work of many other Indigenous makers at Aaniin an Indigenous owned store in Stackt market featuring 35+ Indigenous makers; and then perhaps consider stopping at Tea N Bannock in Leslieville for dinner.
There are lots of options and resources out there to discover Indigenous owned businesses near you. Some of our other recommendations can be found here.
6 | Understand the Truth and Reconciliation Act
Finally, something we should all be aware of is the Truth and Reconciliation Act and the conclusions that were drawn from it. In total, the act, which was published in 2015, included 94 calls to action. As of 2021, only 14 of those calls to action have been completed, 23 are in progress with projects underway, 37 are in progress with projects proposed and 20 have yet to be started. Clearly, there is still a lot of work to be done and our government needs to be held accountable. Considering this, The ‘10 Guiding Principles for the Truth and Reconciliation Act’ can be found here. These principles can teach us how to move forward and practice reconciliation in our everyday lives so we are supporting Indigenous People long after National Indigenous Month ends.
If you are looking for ways to celebrate National Indigenous Month, this list should give you a solid foundation of things to do and practices to observe this month and beyond. The Ontario website also has a list of upcoming Indigenous events here that you can check out and explore.
This month doesn’t just serve as a reminder for settlers to continue their journey to reconciliation, it’s ultimately a time for uplifting and celebrating the resiliency and diversity of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Peoples across Canada.
Tell us, what will you be doing this June, and onwards, to celebrate Indigenous cultures in your community?