National Indigenous History Month 2024: Thematic Learning Series

June is National Indigenous History Month, opens a new window and June 21 is National Indigenous Peoples Day, opens a new window.

It is an opportunity to learn about the unique cultures, traditions, and experiences of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis. It is a time to honour the stories, achievements, and resilience of Indigenous Peoples, who have lived on this land since time immemorial and whose presence continues to impact an evolving Canada.

Check back on this blog post every Monday for new educational content as we explore weekly themes throughout the month:

  • June 1-9, 2024: Environment, traditional knowledge, and territory
  • June 10-16, 2024: Children and youth
  • June 17-23, 2024: Languages, cultures, and arts
  • June 24-30, 2024: Women, girls, and 2SLGBTQIA+ people

While we celebrate the past, we do not forget the injustices related to colonialism and residential schools. Learn more about Reconciliation at the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, opens a new window and the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, opens a new window.


Environment, traditional knowledge, and territory

June 1-9, 2024

Kelusit. Jiks’tmakwet. Keknu:tmasit. / Speak. Listen. Learn.

From elder to child, the traditional knowledge of Canada’s Indigenous Peoples has been passed from generation to generation through stories, lessons, and songs. Their understanding and connection to the natural world informed every aspect of the Indigenous experience.

Samqwan / Water

To many Indigenous people, water is more than a physical necessity. As the entity that sustains all life, it is considered by many to be sacred, and plays a critical role in Indigenous spiritual practices. The protection of waterways is of the utmost importance.

Ws’tqamu / Earth

Wigwams and tipis with bones of wood, birch bark canoes sealed with spruce gum and bear fat, sharpened stones for arrowheads and tools; all of these are gifts from the land.

Medicines too have their roots in the earth: cranberries for urinary health, witch hazel for the skin, blueberries for inflammation, and more. Traditional Indigenous communities relied on seasonal migration to find and collect critical resources.

Wa’isis / Animal

Many Indigenous people feel a strong relationship with the animals they hunt and fish. Through traditional hunting and fishing practices, Indigenous children learn about animal behaviour and elders pass on knowledge of hunting techniques. Hunted animals provided not only food, but also materials for housing, clothing, tools, and canoes.

Etkitu / Create

The knowledge and ingenuity of Canada’s Indigenous Peoples has led to the development of multiple inventions still used to this day. Canoes, chewing gum, snow goggles, dog boots, ulu knives, toboggans, snowshoes, and even petroleum jelly were brought to life by Indigenous tribes.

Community Stories. (2020). Indian Wigwams of Birch Bark, 1898. Community Stories., opens a new window

DeBlois, A. (1996). Micmac Dictionary. Canadian Museum of Civilization.

Hall, P. (2002). Towards An Encyclopedia of Knowledge. Chapter III, Miawpukek, the Middle River. Breakwater Books, Limited.

Lacey, L. (2012). Mi’kmaq Medicines: Remedies and Recollections. Nimbus Publishing.

Mistassini Outfitting Camps Inc. (2024). Mistassini Lake. Mistassini Outfitting Camps Inc., opens a new window

McDowell, P. (2015). Tools and Weapons. Weigl.

Molenaar, C. (2020). Indigenous Oral Histories and Primary Sources; Indigenous Oral History. Government of Canada., opens a new window

Royal Canadian Geographical Society. (2018). Canadian Geographic Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada. First Nations. The Royal Canadian Geographical Society.

Sigafus, K. (2015). Wisdom From Our First Nations. Second Story Press.


Children and Youth

June 10-16, 2024

Indigenous youth are the First Nations, Métis, and Inuit, from all across Canada.

The population is young—25% of Indigenous people are younger than 14 years old—about 450,000 kids. 17% are ages 15 to 24. That’s about 300,000 youth.

What’s Important to Indigenous Youth

Culture & Language

Over half of indigenous youth feel that learning and speaking an Indigenous language is important. Learning and communicating in Indigenous languages helps to build resilience. There are over 70 unique Indigenous languages still spoken in Canada.

Most youth feel good about their Indigenous identity. They state that they make an effort to learn more about their history, traditions, and culture. Being involved with the culture helps to build community and identity.

Orange Shirt Day

Orange Shirt Day is September 30th; it is the day we honour those children who were taken from their families and sent to residential schools. Children across the country wear an orange shirt on this day to remember and to educate.  Remember that every child matters.

Orange Shirt Day has spread to schools all across Canada, including Sweetgrass School near Battleford, Saskatchewan.

Music & Art

Both traditional and modern music help youth express themselves and make connections. There are many youth making waves—13% of indigenous musicians are between 16 and 24.

In programs like Outside Looking In, they showcase Canada’s Largest Indigenous Youth Performance with over 175 Indigenous youth performing. Students can participate in nonprofit programs, such as N’we Jinan, which brings mobile recording studios into First Nations schools.

Arts, crafts, and creativity help to connect youth to each other and to their heritage. A program like Artscan Circle allows youth to create in safe spaces in visual arts, music, recording, and performance art.

Two-Spirit Identity

Two-spirit is a pan-indigenous term that encompasses concepts of sexual, gender, and/or spiritual identity. The term allows differentiation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous experiences. Many two-spirit people manage marginalization by coming together to create communities and families based on affirmation, empowerment, and Indigenous teachings.

Groups like the Urban Native Youth Association bring together two-spirit youth in programs like the 2-Spirit Collective, which offer workshops, resources, art groups, and more.

Sports

Indigenous youth across the country compete in many sports, both traditional and modern. Participating in sports helps youth to build self-esteem, and helps to build healthier individuals and communities.

The North American Indigenous Games are held every four years, where 5,000 youth travel together to compete in 16 different sports. One traditional sport, lacrosse, is growing in popularity, and will make a return to the Summer Olympics in 2028.

https://www.statcan.gc.ca/o1/en/plus/3920-canadas-indigenous-population, opens a new window

https://www.statcan.gc.ca/o1/en/plus/1207-national-indigenous-peoples-day, opens a new window

https://www.canada.ca/en/canadian-heritage/campaigns/national-day-truth-reconciliation.html, opens a new window

https://www.aptnnews.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Music-Impact-Study.pdf, opens a new window

https://tolive.com/Event-Details-Page/reference/Canadas-Largest-Indigenous-Youth-Performance-2023, opens a new window

https://www.lifegate.com/nwe-jinan-canada-first-nations-music, opens a new window

https://www.artscancircle.ca/whatwedo, opens a new window

https://www.rainbowhealthontario.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/2SLGBTQINDIGENOUSHEALTHFactHeet.pdf, opens a new window

https://www.hopeandhealth.org/our-why, opens a new window


Languages, Arts, and Culture

June 17-23, 2024

Languages

There are eight distinct families of Indigenous languages in Canada: Inuit, Na-Dene, Algonquian, Iroquoian, Siouan, Salishan, Wakashan, and Tsimshianic. The Haida, Ktunaxa, and Beothuk languages do not fit into these groups and are considered “unclassified.”

Contact with European settlers has led to borrowing of words into English and French. Additionally, intermixing of language has led to the creation of new language varieties such as Michif.

There are:

  • 70+ Indigenous languages spoken across Canada
  • 237,420 Indigenous people in Canada who report that they could speak an Indigenous language well enough to conduct a conversation
  • 10,875 First Nations people in Atlantic Canada who report that they could speak an Indigenous language well enough to conduct a conversation

Indigenous Languages Map

Arts and Culture

Knowledge is passed down through generations of First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples by means of oral storytelling, learning from elders and Knowledge keepers, as well as hands-on practice or observation.

Song, dance, ceremonies and even dreams have also been means of passing on cultural knowledge.

Traditional arts reflect the relationship Indigenous people have with the land and its plants and animals. Indigenous art is often colourful, natural, purposeful, flowing, and symbolic.

Most Indigenous cultures utilize symbolism as it relates to their connection to the Earth, animals, and each other. Colours, patterns, and imagery depicted reflect the creator’s nation, community, and family.

Indigenous art is dynamic. It is both grounded in the Earth, and points to the sky. It is rooted in the past and looks to the future, representing both tradition and evolution and growth. It expresses both acceptance and resistance.

Indigenous creators are prolific. There are numerous Indigenous writers, poets, and playwrights, filmmakers, dancers and musicians as well as visual artists working in mediums as diverse as painting, quillwork, and soapstone and ivory carving.

Turtle Island

Many Indigenous peoples use the term Turtle Island to refer to North America. Human beings are responsible to the plants, animals, and ecosystems that make up their home. All living things are worthy of respect—they are “all my relations.”

Medicine Wheel

The Indigenous medicine wheel is divided into four quadrants. Each quadrant is a colour, typically white, yellow, red, and black.

Oxford, Will (2019). Indigenous Languages in Canada. Retrieved from https://languagemuseum.ca/, opens a new window

Statistics Canada (2021). Indigenous Languages Across Canada. https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2021/as-sa/98-200-X/2021012/98-200-x2021012-eng.cfm, opens a new window

Havrelock, Deidre and Edward Kay (2023). Indigenous Ingenuity: A Celebration of Traditional North American Knowledge. New York: Christy Ottaviano Books.