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Make Aboriginal Day a holiday -- for everyone

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National Aboriginal Day celebrations in Winnipeg. Barbara Nepinak, left,  with friend Jane Wood.

MARC GALLANT / WINNNIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES Enlarge Image

National Aboriginal Day celebrations in Winnipeg. Barbara Nepinak, left, with friend Jane Wood.

One of my favourite holidays is almost here -- June 21, the longest day of the year, is also Aboriginal Day.

 

Check out free Aboriginal Day events at the Forks today. Then there's a free concert tonight which everyone -- aboriginal and non-aboriginal -- is invited to come out and enjoy.

But at each Aboriginal Day celebration I've attended over the years I've noticed something similar every time. It's usually 98 per cent aboriginal people taking part in the festivities.

Sure, it's OK since we know how to have a good time, but there's room for everyone to come join in on the fun.

Maybe part of the problem is most people think Aboriginal Day is just for aboriginal people. But this day is for all Canadians to be part of and enjoy.

Aboriginal Day is similar to Remembrance Day -- a time of reflection to honour the contributions a group of people have made to this country. In this case, we're celebrating the valuable contributions aboriginal people have made.

After all, we're one of the founding people of this country.

One way to fix this would be to make Aboriginal Day not just a national holiday but a statutory holiday. Sure, some bureaucrats would argue it'd cost millions to do this from a business perspective, but I think it would actually boost office morale and productivity to take a day off in June.

Aboriginal Day would be hard to ignore if it meant a day off work for everyone. It would be an indicator that Aboriginal Day is a "real holiday" and underline its importance to the general public.

Well, if you can't make it down to the celebrations, then here's a few simple ways you can have an Aboriginal Day celebration of your own.

Tip 1) Read an aboriginal book.

This one's easy. Just head down to your favourite bookstore and make a beeline for the aboriginal section. Read a few back cover blurbs and pick out a something that appeals to you. This is one of the easiest ways to learn more about aboriginal people.

Tip 2) Host an aboriginal feast.

If there's something we like to do at celebrations it's to enjoy a big feast with our friends and family. Give it a try, and you don't even have to cook it all yourself.

Hold a potluck feast and see if everyone can make a dish with an aboriginal ingredient; there's corn, cranberries, beans, squash, salmon, seafood, mushrooms, wild rice, maple syrup. Once you start researching you'll find there are tons of ingredients to work with.

No dressing up in headdresses and fringe required, but if you feel like it, go for it.

Tip 3) Learn a few aboriginal words.

This one is a little bit more work, but well worth the effort.

But since there are 65 distinct aboriginal languages in Canada alone, you've got lots to choose from. Here in Manitoba the most prevalent languages are Cree, Ojibway, Dakota, Dene, Michif, Inuktitut, and Oji-Cree.

There are lots of resources out there, from libraries to books like the Pocket Ojibwe: A Phrasebook for Nearly All Occasions by Pat Ningewance. It's a handy resource you can fit in your purse or backpack.

Or you can pay a visit to a place like the Aboriginal Languages of Manitoba office on Sutherland Avenue. They've got an amazing number of resources to learn from and even offer language classes.

If you're more of an online surfer you can also visit a few websites perfect for the person seeking to learn some basics of an aboriginal language. Try the Online Cree Dictionary at www.creedictionary.com if you want to give Cree a try. There's even a children's section and an iPhone app you can download. Howa!

A good site for Ojibwe is www.ojibwe-language.com, and The Native American Women's Health Education Resource Center (www.nativeshop.org/learn-dakota.html) has a set of 12 lessons with a pronunciation guide.

Meegwetch! Now get out there and celebrate.

 

Colleen Simard is a Winnipeg writer.

colleen.simard@gmail.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 18, 2011 J6

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