Celebrating Indigenous Culture
June is National Indigenous History Month and June 21 is National Indigenous Peoples Day. We are all treaty people, and there are many opportunities to develop a better understanding of the treaty, and to understand and appreciate Indigenous culture. Many public events now begin with acknowledging that we are on Treaty 4 territory and the homeland of the Metis people. This is a positive direction, but it hardly needs to be said that there is much to be done to bridge gaps and advance reconciliation.
We can appreciate the work of those engaged in building relationships between the Indigenous community and those from other cultures. The Wakamow Aboriginal Community Association organizes events throughout the year to encourage building of relationships and an appreciation of Indigenous and Metis culture. SaskPolytech has a tremendous focus on Indigenous student success and building bridges between their indigenous students and the people of Moose Jaw. Our local schools have a number of projects and events that enhance understanding and relationships with those of Indigenous heritage around us. Palliser Heights School has been a leader in that endeavor.
Moose Jaw was very fortunate to be chosen as the host city for the Atamiskakewak 2018 National Gathering this past April. The event was planned as a way to bridge the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. About 4500 people attended the event, which included educational speakers on a wide variety of topics, interactive events, an Artisan Fair, and an impressive Pow Wow to finish off the week. I was privileged to attend some of these very worthwhile events. These kinds of occasions increase awareness of the richness of this culture and give a glimpse of what can be learnt when relationships are built.
It will take continued effort from the citizens of Saskatchewan, but there are some encouraging signs of narrowing the social and economic gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous groups. It is known that education and employment are essential to closing these gaps. In the recent budget, approximately $200 million of program funding was targeted for primarily First Nations and Métis organizations or individuals. Much of it was focused on post-secondary and career training. This will help to continue the positive direction we have seen in recent years. The number of First Nations, Métis and Inuit students competing post-secondary programs has grown 35 per cent since 2013. Off-reserve Aboriginal employment has increased significantly in recent years.
Last September, mâmawêyatitân centre opened in Regina. The facility includes a new Scott Collegiate High School, a 33 space child care centre, a city recreational complex, a public library branch, a community policing centre, and a First Nations Elders’ ceremonial room. It’s a model for future projects that are developed with a better understanding of Indigenous culture and needs. Following Their Voices, a made-in-Saskatchewan initiative to improve educational achievement and graduation rates of First Nations, Métis and Inuit students, expanded to 27 schools in the 2017-2018 school year.
The Royal Saskatchewan Museum in Regina has organized a great lineup of events to recognize National Indigenous History Month. The exhibits and events celebrate Saskatchewan’s rich Indigenous history and culture, and embrace contemporary issues. This is a great activity for families and folks of all ages. During the month of June, and especially on National Indigenous Peoples Day, it is an opportunity to learn, participate and contribute to the spirit of reconciliation.