FREDERICTON (GNB) – The following statement was issued by Nathalie Chiasson, chair of the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission, on the occasion of National Aboriginal Day, June 21:

Today marks the start of summer and the start of the 12-day period of Celebrate Canada days, beginning with National Aboriginal Day and running through to Canada Day. It is appropriate that this period begins with a celebration of the heritage, diverse cultures and outstanding achievements of First Nations, Inuit and Metis. It is also appropriate that the theme for this year’s celebration is resilience.

As we approach Canada’s 150th anniversary, we must recall that our history—both Canada’s and New Brunswick’s—began long before Confederation. Our written history begins with the original inhabitants of this land welcoming strangers arriving on their shores. They provided land for settlers, engaged in commerce, entered into peace-and-friendship treaties, shared knowledge and technology to thrive in this land, and fought in colonial wars. The fur trade—the mainstream economy for over 250 years as the settlers arrived—opened the continent to exploration and settlement and relied heavily on the participation and co-operation of indigenous people. It was this co-operation with indigenous people that made the foundation of Canada possible.

However, by the time of Confederation, all this had changed. In 1867, there were no chairs for the indigenous people at the confederation table. We cannot forget that our country was born and came of age without a basis of equality, respect and diversity toward First Nations, Inuit and Metis. Shortly after confederation, the Indian Act was passed, denying Indian status to those who attended university, and prohibiting indigenous people from voting, hiring lawyers to fight for land rights, travelling off reserves and even engaging in cultural activities. Natives in their own land, they were expected to assimilate, to abandon or lose their culture, religion, language, land and power, and “blend in.”

On this National Aboriginal Day, we celebrate the resilience of First Nations, Inuit and Metis. We celebrate the resilience that is reviving languages that had nearly been silenced. We celebrate the resilience that told the truth of residential schools and demanded attention for missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, lower life expectancy, poorer health. We celebrate the resilience of communities that will not silently accept crushing poverty and hopelessness, or disproportionate rates of incarceration, suicide and high-school dropouts. We celebrate the incredible resilience that has changed Canada’s direction and won a national commitment to renew nation-to-nation relationships with indigenous peoples, based on rights, respect, co-operation and partnership.

I encourage you to keep the spirit of this National Aboriginal Day alive throughout the year. Find opportunities to experience and learn about the Mi’kmaq and Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet) cultures here in New Brunswick. Participate in the powwows, festivals and other indigenous cultural events that provide opportunities to share and experience of First Nations, Inuit and Metis culture, traditions and history.

The New Brunswick Human Rights Commission celebrates its own 50th anniversary this year. The commission understands the importance of resilience in defending each other’s rights and in expanding our understanding and protections for human rights. The basis of human rights is respect for the dignity and humanity of all people. Since 1967, the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission has defended and promoted human rights, stood against discrimination and welcomed diversity. We celebrate the resilience of indigenous people that continues to enrich our province and country by defending human rights.