We originally intended to publish this piece on June 21, National Indigenous Peoples Day. However, our website unexpectedly went down. In an effort to bring Kaya’s and Sarah’s stories to our community, we posted this item on Facebook instead. Now we’re up and running again, we’re making this post available here.
Today is National Indigenous Peoples Day. I’ve celebrated this day for as long as I can remember. What really sticks in my mind are my experiences as a child participating in the celebrations with my family.
It was always a day I looked forward to. Me and my family would head down to The Forks in Winnipeg and take in all the amazing music, food trucks and (my fave!) a bouncy castle of some sort.
National Indigenous Peoples Day was also a day when we would run into family and friends, and spend time catching up and visiting. It was a day to reconnect and celebrate our community.
Importantly, the event was the one time during the year when I saw myself reflected back at me.
Growing up in mainly white neighbourhoods and attending a school with very few Indigenous students, I didn’t see myself in my environment: there were very few, if any, Indigenous characters in the books we read, or the TV shows we watched.
In the classroom my culture and peoples were relegated to hunters and gatherers from long ago.
But on June 21 I would be surrounded by smiling faces that looked like mine. I watched incredibly talented performers on a huge stage with lights and smoke and an entire crowd dancing, singing and cheering – and they looked like me and my family. It became a time to celebrate who we are in today’s world.
Storytelling was everywhere: whether it was my mom and aunties talking and laughing or the performers on stage, I could relate to their stories in a way I was never able to at school or in pop culture.
It’s this incredibly positive representation that makes this day so special to me. Now that I’m older I have an even deeper understanding of how important this representation is – particularly having authentic voices tell our stories.
Through the work I do at NSI, I hope I am helping to create spaces for Indigenous filmmakers to tell their stories, and using our privilege to open doors. I want that feeling I carried as a child to just be something Indigenous people feel all the time.
Kaya Wheeler is the program manager of CBC New Indigenous Voices and NSI IndigiDocs
National Indigenous Peoples Day is a celebration of summer solstice and shows the beauty of our culture.
It’s important for Canadians to recognize this day to understand Indigenous culture and that everything our people have been through has not stopped us.
Stories will continue to be passed on by our ancestors and Elders, and new stories will be created.
NSI has run CBC New Indigenous Voices for over 15 years and through the program many successful students have told stories about their culture, family and language with film and sound.
Indigenous peoples are natural storytellers, and with today’s multiple technologies, our stories are just getting stronger and reaching an even wider audience.
Sarah Simpson-Yellowquill is NSI’s Indigenous programs and administrative assistant