Today, on June 21, we celebrate National Indigenous People’s Day. This is a day where we acknowledge, honour, and participate in the rich and vibrant cultures of the First Nations, Metis and Inuit communities on Turtle Island. It is important that we celebrate this day because Canada has not always celebrated and respected Indigenous peoples, culture, and ceremonial practices. This year, celebrations will look different for two very important reasons. The first reason is that the typical ceremonies, Pow Wows and large community gatherings have been suspended in respect of local public health guidelines and community concern for health and safety. At Native Child and Family Services of Toronto, we are celebrating the Grand Opening of the new Mount Dennis Aboriginal Child and Family Centre. We encourage folks to check out the virtual launch on our website. The other, more somber reason why our collective celebration is different this year has to do with the horrifying discovery last month of the remains of 215 Indigenous children near the former Kamloops Indian Residential School on the lands of the Tk’emlups te Secwépemc First Nation in British Columbia.
The spring of 2021 will be forever remembered when Canada woke to the discovery of dead Indigenous children buried in their backyard and to the realization that Canada committed genocide. This visceral and naked moment has prompted many Canadian folks to reflect, educate and seek direction from Indigenous communities. For this we are encouraged. For Indigenous people, it is a reminder that our healing journey is ongoing, and feelings of anguish and anger permeate our consciousness. For this we are loving. For nine days beginning on June 1st 2021, NCFST sites across the GTA hosted Sacred Fires in honour of the 215 children found at Kamloops Indian Residential School to acknowledge the painful legacy of the Indian Residential School system. We recognize that more remains have been found and stand ready to support community as we continue our collective journey towards Healing & Reconciliation.
As we stand in the aftermath of the Canadian awakening some hard realities remain. Indigenous children and families continue to suffer due to the heavy burdens of a genocide that echoes through time. Many Canadians have tried to normalize or ignore inequities found in Indigenous communities; we know this cannot continue. We ask folks to visit the Indigenous Spirit Fund at www.indigenouspiritfund.org to learn more about reconciliation and how folks can support decolonization through philanthropy. Native Child and Family Services of Toronto was founded by the urban Aboriginal community of Toronto to address the aftermath of Indian Residential Schools and the over-representation of Indigenous children and families in mainstream child welfare. As an organization, we continue to remake inherited colonial structures and processes in ways that acknowledge, respect and include Indigenous worldview, knowledge systems, values, and approaches.
At NCFST, we believe that inter-generational Indigenous knowledge and practice play a crucial role in the well-being and health of all Indigenous people. Creating opportunities for collective experience and sharing our cultural gifts is how we keep our community strong and children thriving and safe.