by Cheryl Jackson Thursday June 21, 2012

What might you do today to learn about the history and culture of Aboriginal people in Canada? There are pow wows being held all across the province, art shows, movie festivals, run/walks, dancing and drumming ceremonies. Today, traditionally the summer solstice, is the focus, but there are events all month long, so it's possible to find a time and event that interests you.

Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo said in a press release "These events, and our work day to day, is about much more than celebration. It's about preserving and protecting our languages and traditions and educating all Canadians about our shared history of the the many contibutions of First Nations, Metis and Inuit and our priorities as we move forward."

I asked James Bartleman, former Lieutenant Governor of Ontario and author, what he would like people to take from this day. He said, "National Aboriginal Day 2012 should be a time for Native and Non-Native Canadians to think about their shared sacrifices during the War of 1812-1814." Timely, given that this year marks the bicentennial anniversary of that war. James Bartleman spoke to us about his latest book, "As Long As the River Flows", a fictional account of a family affected by residential schools.

Drew Hayden Taylor, who always sees the humour in things, had this to say about the day: "Well, I think it's a fabulous thing. At first I was a little concerned that the expression of joy and appreciation towards Native people and our culture and contributions was limited to just one day.  I only recently learned it is now been expanded to National Aboriginal Week which is very cool. Still not as flattering as say.... Black history month in February, but given enough time, we just might be able to take over the whole calender."

Drew's latest book is "Motorcycles and Sweetgrass" and he talked to me about that and other things last fall.

Many of this month's events are pow wows. Do you know what a pow wow is?  The word comes the Narragansett word for "wise speaker" or "spiritual leader." Pow wows can be a day or a week long and include dancing, singing, drumming, socializing. I've been to several in Saskatchewan, where I grew up, and I have very fond memories of all of that, but especially the beautiful sounds of the Jingle Dress. Women dancers wear them...they're covered in thousands of silver coins. The music they make is glorious.

Ontario's Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs has a list of events. So does the Government of Canada.

We have lots of information to share here too...a whole page we proudly call "Everything You Wanted to Know About Aboriginal Education".  It includes interviews with Chief Stan Beardy, elders, teachers and authors, including Joseph Boyden and Drew Hayden Taylor.  Enjoy.