National Indigenous Peoples Day a time to celebrate and reflect
On the occasion of National Indigenous Peoples Day, the Canadian Public Health Association (CPHA) reflects on the profound impacts of colonialism and the deeply rooted systemic and individual racism that has plagued First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities throughout Canada's history. As we honor the resilience and contributions of Indigenous Peoples, we acknowledge the injustices they have endured and continue to face.
Colonialism, with its policies of assimilation, dispossession and genocide, has left an indelible mark on Indigenous communities. The legacy of residential schools, the forced removal of children from their families, and the suppression of Indigenous languages and cultures have far-reaching consequences. We must confront this painful history and the lasting impacts on Indigenous Peoples with honesty and humility. We must recognize the role that European settlers, later immigrants, and subsequent generations of Canadians played in perpetuating these injustices.
We must also confront the reality of systemic racism that persists to this day. Indigenous Peoples continue to face disparities in education, healthcare, employment, and justice systems. The disproportionate rates of poverty, incarceration, and violence are reminders of the systemic barriers they confront. We cannot turn a blind eye to these harsh realities.
At an individual level, we must recognize the prejudices and biases that exist within ourselves and work diligently to unlearn and challenge them. True progress requires self-reflection and a commitment to empathy and understanding. Only by acknowledging our past, confronting the present, and working towards a more just and inclusive future can we begin to repair the damage caused by centuries of discrimination and marginalization.
Despite the ongoing impact of colonialism and racism, there are some incredible success stories that need to be celebrated. For example:
In May 2023, Wehwehneh Bahgahkinahgohn was chosen as Best World-Changing Idea, North America, in the annual World Changing Ideas Awards. The Awards honour sustainable designs, innovative products, bold social initiatives, and other creative projects that are changing the way we work, live, and interact with the world. Wehwehneh Bahgahkinahgohn, or ‘it is visible’ is the name of the Southern Chiefs’ Organization initiative to transform the iconic Hudson’s Bay Company heritage building in downtown Winnipeg.
Inuit continue to pursue self-determination through the National Inuit Strategy on Research. Created in 2018 by Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the national voice for Inuit in Canada, the NISR is a roadmap for how governments, academics and scientists must engage with Inuit to enhance ethical conduct, advance Inuit governance, ensure Inuit access and ownership of data, align funding with Inuit priorities and, ultimately, build capacity in Inuit Nunangat research. The NISR is changing the Arctic research landscape by decolonizing how research is developed, conducted and disseminated, thus creating more relevant and meaningful outcomes for Inuit.
The Métis Nation of Alberta’s (MNA) Climate Change Action Plan (CCAP) has been included in a shortlist of nominees for the 32nd Annual Emerald Awards in the energy category, which recognizes projects and initiatives that positively support the evolution of Alberta’s energy systems. The MNA’s CCAP was developed following its Annual General Assembly (AGA) in 2017, where there was a unanimous decision to support and direct the MNA in designing climate change initiatives and programs.
For its part, CPHA is working with the Indigenous Advisory Council to guide the Association on the pathway to Truth and Reconciliation. CPHA recognizes that Truth and Reconciliation is an ongoing and evolving process, and that every interaction between Indigenous (First Nations, Inuit and Métis) Peoples and non-Indigenous people is an opportunity to advance Truth and Reconciliation. CPHA commits to being an organization that meaningfully embeds Truth and Reconciliation in its work and strives to have robust relations with Indigenous Peoples based on mutual respect, trust, and dialogue.
On this National Indigenous Peoples Day, let us not only celebrate the vibrant cultures and contributions of Indigenous Peoples but also commit ourselves to supporting their self-determination, revitalization of languages and cultures, and pursuit of social justice. By acknowledging the impact of colonialism and systemic racism, we take a crucial step towards reconciliation and a more equitable society for all Canadians.