Today, June 21 is National Indigenous Peoples Day. Officially declared in 2009, National Indigenous Peoples Day celebrates Indigenous cultures and honours the heritage of First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities in Canada. National Indigenous History Month is observed in June with events and festivities that celebrate the contributions of Indigenous people in Canada.
Honouring Indigenous heritage is something that shouldn’t be relegated to one day or one month of the year, rather it should be a part of everyday life in our communities. Until that point is reached, however, we have an opportunity today and this month to join in widespread celebrations and develop a deeper understanding of the history and traditions of Indigenous Peoples in Toronto.
The TAEH recognizes that we cannot adequately address or end homelessness in Toronto without working more intentionally with the leaders and groups serving Indigenous peoples experiencing homelessness going forward. Consider the following:
· There is a significant over-representation of Indigenous Peoples in Canada’s homelessness population, stemming from colonization, racism, oppression and historical trauma. In Toronto, Indigenous Peoples constitute around 15 percent of the city’s homeless population, compared to 1 in 128 for the general population. This means that urban indigenous peoples are eight times more likely to experience homelessness.
· There is not yet an official Federal definition of Indigenous Homelessness. Working with Jesse Thistle, The Canadian Observatory’s on Homelessness defines Indigenous Homelessness as follows: Indigenous homelessness is a human condition that describes First Nations, Métis and Inuit individuals, families or communities lacking stable, permanent, appropriate housing, or the immediate prospect, means or ability to acquire such housing. Unlike the common colonialist definition of homelessness, Indigenous homelessness is not defined as lacking a structure of habitation; rather, it is more fully described and understood through a composite lens of Indigenous worldviews. These include: individuals, families and communities isolated from their relationships to land, water, place, family, kin, each other, animals, cultures, languages and identities. Importantly, Indigenous people experiencing these kinds of homelessness cannot culturally, spiritually, emotionally or physically reconnect with their Indigeneity or lost relationships (Aboriginal Standing Committee on Housing and Homelessness, 2012).
You can read more – and watch a short video - about the 12 Dimensions of Indigenous Homelessness and more on the Homeless Hub website.
· Everyday in Toronto we live, work and travel on land that is the traditional territory of many nations including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples and is now home to many diverse First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. The TAEH acknowledges that Toronto is covered by Treaty 13 signed with the Mississaugas of the Credit, and the Williams Treaty signed with multiple Mississaugas and Chippewa bands.
You can learn more about Indigenous peoples in Toronto at the Toronto for All campaign and its message of land recognition awareness in our city. This public education campaign is delivered by the City of Toronto and supported by community partner Toronto Aboriginal Support Council (TASSC), who we have previously partnered with on projects and have plans to do even more together going forward.
· The Advisory Committee’s on Homelessness focus and recommendations to the Federal government’s homelessness strategies on reconciliation in Canada. The recent announcement of the Federal Government’s Homelessness revitalized Partnering Strategy Reaching Home included the increase of funding to prevent and reduce Indigenous homelessness and support the delivery of holistic and culturally-appropriate responses to the unique needs of Indigenous Peoples living in vulnerable conditions.
We recognize that there is no solving homelessness – or even addressing the causes, or improving the conditions that are meant to support and assist people experiencing homelessness – without working in a coordinated way with leaders in the Indigenous community. To change this we recognize that the TAEH has a role to play in learning more, and in seeking guidance from the Indigenous community on not only how to increase our working relationship and coordinate our efforts, but also on a shared vision of why this is so important.
Many Indigenous Peoples and communities have for generations celebrated their culture and heritage on or around June 21, the beginning of summer solstice and the longest day of the year. If you are interested in learning more, Toronto for All has a section on their site on how you can get involved as well as a list of upcoming events. As for where to celebrate, National Indigenous Peoples Day/Month 2018, there is an Indigenous Arts Festival at Fort York from June 21- 24 as well as other events happening throughout the city.
National Indigenous Peoples Day (Government page)