By Ian Croft
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
With Canada continuing to take the necessary steps to make amends for its past with Indigenous people, it is important that the country continues to promote and celebrate the cultures that were here first. Martin Shields, MP for Bow River and member of the Heritage Committee, spoke on the federal origins of National Indigenous Peoples Day and Orange Shirt Day.
“You know, June 21 and Orange Shirt Day, which is September 30, when it came up in a sense of discussion about those particular days, I remember being on committee in Heritage and saying: ‘Which one?’ Because they were saying as a committee a national holiday versus a day of remembrance and finally we said: ‘Let’s let them (the Indigenous people) decide where it is. Why are we deciding it? Nice of us to talk about it. It came back from the national organization that they would like to have June 21 and have the national holiday on the Orange Shirt Day on September 30,” said Shields. “There are two different days out there, so the distinction was they would like to keep the one of remembrance as September 30 and so the celebration of Indigenous people is on June 21 and summer solstice. We had Indigenous committee actually on that day. There were some events that we talked about that was going to happen that we would be involved in, in Ottawa, but the prime minister had COVID. As committee members, we would’ve done something on that particular day but that would have been cancelled specifically to do with it.”
Shields then took a moment to talk about an event he attended during National Indigenous Peoples Day.
“My Indigenous Day, I had the opportunity last night when I just got back (to southern Alberta from Ottawa) to attend a graduation of an outreach high school in Siksika, and so last night I was able to go and participate in the celebration for that school. That was great, I really like outreach schools and Siksika does a great job with their outreach school. The opportunity to be involved with an outreach high school for the graduation is something I’ve done before but I appreciate doing that.”
Shields then finished off the conversation by talking about the richness of Indigenous culture.
“I think with that comes a lot of education. On the Indigenous committee, we are able to listen to a tremendous number of super educated people on a lot of different things Indigenous.”
Shields expressed how grateful he is to have an opportunity of learning about Indigenous cultures as a member of the committee, as well as being on the committee.
“Again, the opportunities I had last night where they have a drummer who’s one of their students who have learned to be a drummer, you have an elder who is able to offer an Indigenous prayer in the language, and you hear about how the students were challenged all year long to learn a new word in the Blackfoot language.”
He also discussed how important it was that Indigenous people were learning their ancestral language.
“How a student got up and was able to make part of a speech in an Indigenous language because she learned it this year, because on Heritage one of the things we have done previously was the part of the government legislation to do with money for Indigenous languages in Canada. That’s the richness of the culture the language — you and I are speaking a language we’re familiar with and there are phrases in it and things we easily say that have meaning to it, but the Indigenous languages that they’re losing are their culture as well, and so to see them learning that because that is their culture is their language, just like it is ours. When we got a people who are losing it but then learning it again that’s the richness of the culture.”