National Indigenous History Month

Observing National Indigenous History Month

National Indigenous History Month is a time for all of us to learn about and celebrate Indigenous cultures. This month provides an opportunity to delve into various aspects of Indigenous history and heritage, enriching our understanding and respect for the traditions and contributions of Indigenous communities.

Celebrating National Indigenous History Month with cultural heritage

When did National Indigenous History Month start?

National Indigenous History Month was officially recognized in Canada in 2009 following a unanimous motion in the House of Commons. This recognition is part of a broader effort to honor the rich histories, cultures, and contributions of Indigenous peoples in Canada. Celebrated every June, this month coincides with National Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21st, which aligns with the summer solstice and is a day set aside to celebrate and share Indigenous cultures and traditions.

Discovering Indigenous Heritage

National Indigenous History Month is a perfect time to explore the rich heritage of Indigenous cultures. From architectural marvels like longhouses to traditional culinary practices, there is so much to learn and appreciate.

Longhouses: Architectural Marvels

Longhouses, particularly among the Coast Salish and Iroquois, are remarkable examples of Indigenous architectural ingenuity. These large, communal structures served as homes, social hubs, and ceremonial spaces, reflecting a deep understanding of community living.

Longhouses and their significance during National Indigenous History Month
Mungo Martin House in Thunderbird Park, Victoria, BC

These large, multi-family dwellings were not just residences but centers for social, ceremonial, and political activities. Constructed from timber planks, these structures could reach up to 200 feet long, accommodating multiple families under one roof. The design of these longhouses facilitated a unique way of living where families and livestock shared spaces, yet maintained distinct quarters. This architectural choice reflects a deep understanding of community living, where the sharing of resources and spaces strengthened communal bonds and helped preserve warmth during colder seasons.

Indigenous Culinary Traditions

Traditional Indigenous foods like corn, beans, and squash, known as the “Three Sisters,” highlight sustainable agricultural practices and cultural significance. Modern Indigenous chefs blend these traditional recipes with contemporary techniques, offering delicious dishes that celebrate heritage.

Bannock taco
The Bannock Taco – a modern take on traditional Indigenous cuisine

The Importance of Indigenous Food Sovereignty

Colonization significantly disrupted Indigenous communities, affecting their access to traditional food sources and altering their diet and health. This has led to a resurgence in the movement for Indigenous food sovereignty, which emphasizes the right of Indigenous peoples to access and control their own culturally appropriate and sustainable food systems. This movement not only seeks to restore traditional practices that were suppressed but also aims to improve health outcomes and strengthen community development.

By supporting Indigenous food sovereignty, we help ensure that Indigenous communities maintain their cultural heritage and promote environmental sustainability.

Modern Indigenous Cuisine

Today, Indigenous chefs are vital in preserving and revitalizing their culinary heritage by blending traditional recipes with modern techniques. They collaborate with elders to maintain authenticity while using local ingredients innovatively.

Modern Indigenous chef preparing a traditional dish
Mr. Bannock of Squamish First Nation

For those keen to experience modern Indigenous cuisine, an array of dishes awaits, from bannock tacos and cedar-planked salmon to bison burgers, each offering a unique flavour. Explore these and more—like elderberry tea, Inuvialuit-style donuts, fry bread pizza, and arctic cranberries—at local food trucks, pow-wows, Indigenous restaurants, and farmers’ markets. These venues provide a taste of Indigenous culinary traditions and support the chefs who continue to keep their heritage vibrant.

Potlatch: The Ceremonial Gift-Giving Feast

The potlatch is a ceremonial feast central to Northwest Coast nations, representing Indigenous social, economic, and ceremonial life. This tradition involves the chief or a respected member of the community hosting a grand feast where wealth is redistributed and social statuses are affirmed through elaborate gift-giving and feasting.

Understand the importance of Potlatch ceremonies as part of National Indigenous History Month celebrations
Peace dance at Kwaxalanukwame’ ‘Namugwis, Chief William T. Cranmer’s potlatch, 1983

This special ceremony in Indigenous cultures was outlawed in Canada from 1885 to 1951 under the Indian Act. In 1921, participants at a notable potlatch were arrested and tried. Chiefs were forced to sign an agreement not to host potlatches until the law was repealed to avoid further imprisonment. Despite the pressure, many chiefs refused to sign and were jailed. During this period, significant cultural items, known as the Potlatch Collection, were also confiscated from the Indigenous people, marking a profound loss of heritage.

Celebrating Living Traditions

During National Indigenous History Month, we reflect on longhouses, traditional foods, and the potlatch ceremony as living practices that enrich Indigenous communities today. By learning about Indigenous history and traditions, we honour the past, engage with the present, and contribute to a future where these practices are recognized as integral to the fabric of our shared history.

Engaging in National Indigenous History Month

There are many ways to celebrate National Indigenous History Month and deepen your understanding of Indigenous cultures:

  • Visit Cultural Centers: Explore local cultural centers such as the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre or the Whetung Ojibwa Cultural Centre to learn about Indigenous history, art, and traditions of the Indigenous peoples of those regions.
  • Attend a Pow Wow: Experience the vibrant culture firsthand by attending a pow wow, where you can see traditional dancing, drumming, and singing, and connect directly with the community.
  • Research the 94 Calls to Action: Educate yourself on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s guidelines.
  • Celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day: Participate in events on June 21st, which coincides with the summer solstice. This day is set aside for Indigenous Peoples to celebrate and share their rich cultures and heritages.
  • Read Books by Indigenous Authors: Support Indigenous authors and gain insight into their perspectives by reading their works. This can be an excellent way to understand historical and contemporary issues Indigenous communities face.
  • Bake Bannock at Home: Make bannock or fry bread at home using an easy recipe or fry bread mix. This can be a fun way to engage with Indigenous culinary traditions
  • Learn Local Indigenous Languages: Start with simple greetings in your area’s Indigenous language. This small gesture can show respect for and interest in the preservation of these languages.
  • Listen to Stories from Residential School Survivors: Understand the impacts of residential schools on Indigenous communities.
  • Support Indigenous Creators: Discover and support Indigenous artists, artisans, and musicians by purchasing their work, attending their shows, or streaming their music. Supporting these creators helps sustain their cultural practices and contributes to growing the Indigenous economy.
  • Reflect on Indigenous Issues: Consider the challenges faced by Indigenous communities and ways to support them.

Thank you for joining us in celebrating National Indigenous History Month and supporting reconciliation efforts. Let’s continue to learn and grow together.

Shop First Nations supporting Indigenous businesses during National Indigenous History Month
Chelssie (R) of Shop First Nations supporting Indigenous businesses during National Indigenous History Month

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