By Josh Elliott,

Tuesday is Canada’s National Aboriginal Day, the annual celebration of the country’s First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples. Here’s what you need to know about the day for recognition, reflection and education.


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau paddles in a a voyageur canoe on the Ottawa River following the National Aboriginal Day Sunrise Ceremony in Gatineau, Quebec on Tuesday, June 21, 2016. (Sean Kilpatrick / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

1. 20th anniversary

Tuesday marks the 20th anniversary of National Aboriginal Day, which was first established in 1996 by the governor general at the time, Romeo LeBlanc. National Aboriginal Day is held every year on June 21 to coincide with the summer solstice, a day that holds cultural significance in many aboriginal cultures.

2. Not a statutory holiday

National Aboriginal Day is not a statutory holiday in most of Canada, although the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has recommended that a statutory holiday be established to acknowledge the historic suffering of Canada’s indigenous peoples. In its recommendation #80, the TRC calls for the federal government to “establish, as a statutory holiday, a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation to honour survivors, their families, and communities, and ensure that public commemoration of the history and legacy of residential schools remains a vital component of the reconciliation process.”

The Northwest Territories marks National Aboriginal Day as a territorial statutory holiday, and the Yukon is also considering making it a statutory holiday.

3. Celebrating arts, crafts, dancing and music

Many Aboriginal Canadians mark the day by inviting members of the public to share in their culture at pow wows, parades and festivals held across the country. The federal government has established a reference page for Canadians to look up events being held in their cities on Tuesday and later in the week, as National Aboriginal Month continues.

4. A good day to greet the sun

Aboriginal leaders and politicians from various levels of government gathered Tuesday morning in several cities across the country to mark the sunrise in special traditional ceremonies. In Toronto, for instance, Mayor John Tory joined Cayuga First Nations Elder Cat Criger and others for a sunrise ceremony and flag-raising at City Hall.

5. A good time to brush up on Truth and Reconciliation

National Aboriginal Day is meant not only to acknowledge Canada’s First Nations, Inuit and Metis communities, but to recognize their shared history – good and bad – with the rest of Canada.

Dr. Nadine Caron, a professor at the University of British Columbia, said all Canadians should be encouraged to review the 94 recommendations made by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, in their report released last July. “The TRC was a massive step forward,” Caron told CTV News Channel on Tuesday morning, adding that all Canadians should try to be “part of the solution the entire way.”

The document outlines many of the historic and present-day challenges facing Canada’s Aboriginal peoples, and recommends ways to improve the way they are treated going forward. “This document was meant for all Canadians,” she said.

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