The birth of National Aboriginal Day didn’t come overnight, but now Canada’s celebration of vibrant Indigenous cultures and traditions is marking 20 years of celebrating contributions of First Nations people.
In 1982, the former National Indian Brotherhood — now known as the Assembly of First Nations — lobbied the federal government for the creation of National Aboriginal Solidarity Day to be celebrated each year on June 21.
Finally, in 1995, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples put forth a recommendation to designate June 21 as a day in celebration of National Aboriginal Day. During that same year, the Sacred Assembly — a national conference of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people chaired by Elijah Harper — put forth a call for a national holiday to celebrate contributions from First Nations, Inuit and Métis people to the country.
In 1996, Roméo LeBlanc, then Governor General of Canada, put forth a proclamation declaring June 21 of each year to be recognized and celebrated as National Aboriginal Day.
The days surrounding June 21 have long been a time of significance for Indigenous Peoples due to the summer solstice — the longest day of the year — falling on or near June 21.
In 2001, the National Aboriginal Day Act was passed by members of the 14th Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories. This decision made the territory the first jurisdiction in the country to recognize National Aboriginal Day as a formal statutory holiday.
The Canadian Constitution recognizes First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples as the three groups of Aboriginal peoples, or Indigenous Peoples.
Though each of the three groups share many similarities, all have their own longstanding and unique heritage, languages, cultural practices and spiritual beliefs.
Now in its 20th year, National Aboriginal Day is part of a series of “Celebrate Canada” days, including the National Holiday of Quebec (June 24), Canadian Multiculturalism Day (June 27) and Canada Day (July 1).
All Government of Canada departments support National Aboriginal Day, while Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) and Canadian Heritage work to promote the celebration. INAC provides resources and ideas for events throughout the nation, while Canadian Heritage supplies funding opportunities to help execute the festivities.
With files from the Government of Canada