Git Hayetsk, representing the traditional dances of the Haida, Haisla, Tahltan, Tlingit, Lil’wat and Musqueam nations, perform outside the Royal B.C. Museum at the Victoria Aboriginal Cultural Festival on Sunday. Including First Nations in local Canada 150 celebrations is an important step in ongoing relationship building. Don Descoteau/Victoria News

Shared Canada 150 celebrations simply feel good

Inclusion of First Nations in events, planning, is an evolution in relationship

As Canada prepares for one of the biggest parties in its history, it’s nice to see Victoria celebrating those who occupied this vast land long before the British North America Act was ever conceived.

Kicking off with last weekend’s Victoria Aboriginal Festival, the recognition of our First Peoples continued with National Aboriginal Day on June 21. While areas dedicated to tourism in the city have many ongoing references to First Nations culture, the overall impact of this special day is still lost on many residents.

Proclaimed in 1996, National Aboriginal Day was meant to celebrate and recognize the cultures and contributions made by all First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples of Canada. We’re a long way from seeing this day become a statutory holiday for all, but some groups and organizations are working hard to keep the recognition factor in the public eye.

The City of Victoria, declared last June that 2017, Canada’s sesquicentennial year, would be “a year of reconciliation” and committed to having that theme guide the city’s Canada 150 celebrations and events.

That commitment to include First Nations art, music, food and other culture has helped maintain the relationship-building necessary to improve the lot of our aboriginal friends and neighbours and create community harmony.

Canada has done a lot of good since its founding 150 years ago. Despite that progress, there’s no larger black mark on our history than how this country has treated our aboriginal peoples.

The majority of Victoria and Esquimalt residents cannot feel the generational pain that flowed from such abhorrent actions as forced attendance at residential schools and the creation of the reserve system. That’s why it’s important for non-aboriginals in our communities to keep checking in – with themselves and First Nations – to ensure their personal actions or beliefs are not causing further harm.

During celebrations of Canada’s birthday and pride in being Canadian, try not to take for granted the stories and songs shared by our First Nations. They and their ancestors have loved and cared for this land far longer than the relative newcomers in our midst.

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