“We are all sacred beings of Mother Earth and so, we must walk together on this journey together, in true partnership with one another.” These were powerful words from Elder Pauline Shirt, a respected knowledge keeper from Saddle Lake Reserve in Alberta and a woman greatly admired for her commitment to the Toronto Indigenous community. She opened the Lobby Day hosted by OPSEU’s June 21 Campaign Committee and Indigenous Circle on December 2, 2019 at Queen’s Park. This event represents the committees’ ongoing efforts to have June 21, known as Indigenous Day, recognized as a statutory holiday in Ontario.
In addition to an opening prayer, Elder Pauline also provided several teachings that included the significance behind the sharing of tobacco. As one of the four sacred medicines, tobacco plays an integral role in many Indigenous ceremonies; one that is deeply rooted in tradition and represents the connection that today’s youth, adults and elders have with their ancestors from generations ago. “Tobacco is symbolic of how we can continue to learn from one another in order to move forward, together,” said Elder Pauline.
Those in attendance were also invited to participate in a mini KAIROS Blanket Exercise. Developed in collaboration with Indigenous Elders, knowledge keepers and educators, the blanket exercise took participants on a journey designed to foster truth, understanding and reconciliation among Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. “The purpose was to move everyone, MPPs included, from head to heart to feet” explained Linda Broer, Chair of OPSEU’s June 21 Campaign Committee. “After such a powerful exercise, we want action” she added.
MPPs from all parties attended and were asked to sign a pledge certificate in support for the June 21 holiday. Sol Mamakwa, Suze Morrison, Mike Mantha, Peter Tabuns, Mike Schreiner, Percy Hatfield, Chris Glover, Doly Begum, Marit Stiles, Jamie West, Gilbert Sharpe, Michael Tibollo, and Bruce Topping have already signed and more are expected on their way.
Eddy Almeida, OPSEU’s First Vice-President/Treasurer, was also there to support the work of OPSEU Indigenous members.
“Our job as a union is to educate our own members and we need to do much more to undo the mistakes of our colonial past,” Almeida said.
“As we journey down the road of reconciliation, it is time to recognize the contributions and sacrifices that the many Indigenous Nations across Canada have made. Establishing June 21 as Indigenous Day would take us one step farther on the path to that long-awaited reconciliation,” he added.
Ontario would join the Yukon and the Northwest Territories in making June 21 a statutory holiday. We continue to strongly encourage the Ontario government to follow their good example.