Mosaic of Saint Helen at the church façade

Recognizing Dignity on National Indigenous Peoples Day

Posted : Jun-20-2023

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Julia and Adam Kozak, a married couple involved in bridge-building and peacemaking with Indigenous and non-indigenous peoples, reflect on National Indigenous Peoples Day. Adam, a Lay Pastoral Associate and musician, was the National Project Manager for the Programs Team for the Papal Visit to Canada. Julia, a member of the Nisga’a Nation, designer and artist and the Canadian Administrator of Alpha in a Catholic Context; she was the Maskwacis Site Coordinator for the Programs Team on the Papal Visit to Canada. 

June 21 is recognized as National Indigenous Peoples Day in Canada.  It is a day for people of all backgrounds to acknowledge the historic, cultural and spiritual contributions of great significance that the First Peoples across these lands develop, uphold and share.

For ages upon ages, the original people of these lands engaged in ways to rightly care for and maintain relationship with creation and Creator.  Ways were put to the test and tradition was formed.  Over time, nations would encounter other nations from near and far.  Differences in culture and ways became known. 

History reminds us of the great benefit in what is revealed when we encounter fields unknown to us yet which seek the same value of knowledge, wisdom and expression.  We feel jubilation stir within us when we encounter a fellow witness to the glory of creation. 

From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. - Acts 17:26-27

However, to truly receive the goodness of fellow witness, we must also give dignity to that witness.  

Dignity is to acknowledge an innate value of another, granted to us in creation, that is expressed in culture, nation, tribe, family and as an individual.

If someone were to say ‘I like European food’, you would likely ask, what does that mean?

Pizza? Escargot? Goulash? Pierogi? There is a vast diversity of cultures throughout continents and countries and the Indigenous cultures throughout Canada are diverse and unique as well.

Generally in Canada, Indigenous people are categorised as First Nations, Inuit and Métis.  These groupings of Indigenous people have tremendous diversity in their histories, cultures and ways. Within First Nations, for example, there are many nations from coast to coast.  The Tsimshian people of the West coast have very different traditions than the Ojibwe people in the East.  Yes, these are Indigenous people.  Yes, these are First Nations people.  And within these nations would be clans, families and individual people of dignity.  People of Indigenous heritage, like people of any heritage, do not all share the same ideas or opinions.  Each person has a voice that is uniquely theirs within the context of their community.

We must take care to not make a ‘monolith’ of the Indigenous Peoples of these lands, doing so creates a blank ‘mask’ of anonymity that dehumanizes.

A great way to start changing our views on this is by finding out about the nations close to you. Learn about the differences between the nations, read about and listen to their histories.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions and attend community events where you can experience the local cultures for yourself. Connect with individual people.  Talk with somebody by name.  See the dignity of that individual made in the same image and likeness that you are.

As we continue to walk forward together toward peace-making and bridge-building between Indigenous and non-indigenous people, we continue to pray for healing and reconciliation for all people in these lands.