On the Twentieth Anniversary of National Aboriginal Day

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Yasmeen Abu-LabanProfessor of Political Science at the University of Alberta, and President of the Canadian Political Science Association

June 21, 2016 marks the twentieth anniversary of National Aboriginal Day.   Canada’s official proclamation of a National Aboriginal Day stemmed from recommendations by Indigenous groups as well as the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples.

For those concerned with equity in educational institutions and practices, National Aboriginal Day also offers educators (along with all Canadians) opportunities for sharing in Indigenous cultures and traditions, as well as teaching and learning.

 For example, when I served as a “non-Aboriginal” parent volunteer for the National Aboriginal Day celebration in my son’s K-12 public school in Edmonton last year, amongst other activities I witnessed a teacher read an age appropriate story about residential schools to a class of kindergarten students.  The experience was poignant because the teacher in question had worked incredibly hard to have a discussion about residential schools with such young children, and because aspects of the story were made even more personal by the commentary of another volunteer whose own mother had attended a residential school.

As someone who remembers instructing university courses in the 1990s where there were adult students who had never heard of residential schools, it is also now evident to me that one is never too old, nor too young, to learn.  Still, in the end,  National Aboriginal Day is but one of many days in the year to consider the rich cultural and linguistic traditions of Indigenous peoples as well as the impact of settler-colonialism.

Because the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) viewed residential schools as enabling cultural genocide, it is not surprising that many of the TRC’s 94 Calls to Action of 2015 carry implications for educational and cultural institutions and practices.   The TRC’s 94 Calls invite consideration of what an ongoing process of reconciliation might entail, and also directly concern universities, university programs, and granting agencies like the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. 

Now, as President of the Canadian Political Science Association (CPSA), I am grateful to have guidance on the implications of the TRC Calls for my discipline from a Committee of leading scholars.   The Reconciliation Committee, comprised of Isabel Altamirano-Jimenez from University of Alberta, Glen Coulthard from University of British Columbia, Rauna Kuokkanen from University of Toronto,  Kiera Ladner from University of Manitoba, Peter Russell from University of Toronto, and Daniel Salée from Concordia University, will develop a plan of action. They will also assist in advising on content for the 2017 annual meeting of Chairs of Departments of Political Science as well as the CPSA Annual Conference at Congress 2017 in Toronto.   The evolving responses by different scholarly associations was a topic discussed at the Sharing the Land, Sharing a Future forum sponsored by the Federation on June 1, 2016.

While the twentieth anniversary of this National Aboriginal Day marks the passage of time, the TRC Calls remind us that there are choices in how the future will be charted.



Equity MattersEducation and EquityEducationAboriginal Education