National Aboriginal Day marked with calls for respect, understanding

Matthew Coutts
Daily Brew
The human rights commission report found Canada's Aboriginal Peoples continue to experience conditions of persistent disadvantage

Members of Canada's First Nations community are staging a full-court press for respect on Friday, marking National Aboriginal Day with marches and demands for reconciliation with Ottawa.

Sovereignty Summer, the evolution of the Idle No More movement, is promising to ramp back into action and bring the plight of First Nations communities back into the spotlight.

Shawn Atleo, the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, is not directly affiliated with the movement but says he continues to push for respect and cooperation from Parliament Hill.

“First Nations are not waiting, and will pursue the changes required on First Nations’ terms,” he told the Globe and Mail.

[ Related: Half of First Nations kids living in poverty: study ]

A full day of demonstrations and activism was planned in Ottawa, where members of the Idle No More movement paraded through the city's downtown.

The Million First Peoples' March snarled traffic as it weaved toward Parliament Hill. Speeches and rallies were scheduled through the afternoon.

The purpose of the march is to raise awareness of the rights and treaties of Canada's First Nations communities.

A new study found that half of First Nations children are living in poverty, and last year's National Household Survey underscored a raft of problems, including fading native languages.

June 21 was proclaimed National Aboriginal Day in 1996, but its meaning has been underlined over the past year, thanks to the growth and reach of the Idle No More movement in calling for respect from Ottawa.

But just as important is the respect and understanding of average Canadians.

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Which brings us to a novel approach to bridge that gap. CBC News reports that 40 "ordinary Canadians" had been invited to spend a week on the remote Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) reserve in northern Ontario.

The intention was to show those unfamiliar with life on a reserve the issues they face, but also the ways their lives are similar.

"One of the most important things I'd like them to see is the KI spirit," organizer Faith McKay told the network.

"Being native, we face so many stereotypes, so much racism. Hopefully when [the visitors] leave they get to tell their friends, 'They're people, they laugh. Sure they have struggles, but they're there, they're people up there and all they want to do is build bridges and make friends.'"

Members of KI showed guests the two-bedroom trailers, where families of up to 10 people often sleep, as well as demonstrated traditional skills.

This small but clever exchange program can’t help but help connect First Nations communities with the rest of Canada, if only in a small way. Those 40 visitors have now spent a week in someone else’s shoes.

Experiencing leads to understanding. And understanding leads to respect. Which is, after all, the ultimate goal of National Aboriginal Day.