As we approach the celebration of National Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21 (National Indigenous People’s Day of Prayer in the Church), the news has been dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Then the George Floyd tragedy happened in Minnesota, May 25. This blatant murder by a police officer of an unarmed Black man has caused people to stop in their tracks and really consider what equality for all people is about. The violence toward Black people in the USA, and the racism in our own country shows how deeply divided we are as a society.
I cannot speak for Black people, nor should I, but I can look at our own history and the violence to our Indigenous women, children and Elders. We still suffer in many ways from the legacy of the Residential Schools; we still do not know the number and names of all the children who died while in that system; and we still have Aboriginal women who are murdered with many of the murders unsolved, go missing, or die at the hands of police. None of these incidents have sparked anywhere near the degree of mass protest that has erupted following the murder of George Floyd.
In his book, “The Skin We’re In,” Black author Desmond Cole looks at Canada in the year 2017, month by month, and talks about his own experiences living with the injustices directed toward Black people on a daily basis. He devotes a chapter to Canada’s Indigenous peoples, and urges solidarity with them as their experiences are similar.
We Indigenous people have lived with this for generations and in order to survive we have become numb to it all. You might wonder what keeps us going on, and what is it that we have to celebrate on National Indigenous Peoples day….?
In the Diocese of New Westminster, and in the national Anglican Church, we have a lot to celebrate. I cannot help but feel gratitude for how far the churches in this diocese and their Aboriginal neighbours have come in building relationships and celebrating each others’ communities. It is a joy to see churches celebrating National Indigenous Peoples Day in their liturgies. It has been wonderful to have an annual celebratory Feast on the grounds of the Synod Office, which includes singing and dancing offered by the Coast Salish and Nisga’a peoples, Métis dancers and fiddlers, and the Big Drum group representing the Plains peoples. It was very special for the Kwhlii Gibaygum Nisga’a Dancers (of which I and members of my family are members) to be part of the Opening Eucharist for General Synod, July, 2019.
We can all truly look up to Indigenous heroes like; Dr. Martin Brokenleg, Dr. Chief Bobby Joseph, and Archbishop Mark MacDonald. Young leaders are emerging, such as Keane Tait who is keeper of Nisga’a knowledge. There are so many more people we can look up to as our Nations continue to grow and thrive. The national “Indspire Awards” are presented annually by Canada’s Indigenous people to recognize outstanding achievement by individuals amongst their own. Here is a link to the site where you can find out about Indspire, learn about the 2020 recipients and past recipients. The 2020 awards will be broadcast on APTN, CBC, CBC Radio and CBC GEM on Sunday June 21, 2020 at 8:00pm / 8:30pm NT.
In my own experience with the Kwhlii Gibaygum Nisga’a Dancers, I have seen the group build connections with many different organizations in the greater community eager to learn about our ways by inviting us to participate in their events and share our culture. We have performed at many teachers’ conferences, health conferences, the B.C. Tourism Awards ceremony, the PNE, and at Ronald McDonald House at the B.C. Children’s hospital.
Enjoy these pictures from various events and the video, and celebrate with us on National Indigenous Peoples Day, honour who we are and look to the future and a just and equal society for all.
Many thanks to all who have taken photographs and shared those photographs with diocesan communications over the years.