On June 21, CUPE Ontario and the Indigenous Council mark Indigenous Peoples Day, a time to celebrate the strength, history, and powerful resilience of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people across this Turtle Island.

Throughout this month and especially on June 21, we celebrate Indigenous achievements, diversity, and cultures.  We recommit our union to deepening the work to advocate for Indigenous rights in the workplace and in our communities. We stand in solidarity with Indigenous workers as they continue to fight against discrimination, environmental racism and the continuing effects of colonialism.

Indigenous communities continue to bear the weight of colonialism  as both federal and provincial government fail to take action toward real truth and reconciliation.  Clean water, decent housing and properly funded education are among the basic rights Indigenous communities still struggle to obtain.

This year, however, we also pay tribute to a historic first that took place in May, when New Democrat MPP Sol Mamakwa addressed the Ontario legislature in his Indigenous language Oji-Cree, also known as Anishininiimowin. Mamakwa is a survivor of the residential school system and he was not allowed to speak his language during his years at residential school; he was told he should forget his language. Yet decades later, he was the first person to win the right to speak a language other than English or French on the floor of the legislature, and CUPE Ontario members were among those at Queen’s Park who witnessed this moment of empowerment and history.

In celebrating this victory, we must also remember the shameful systematic and state-sanctioned  discrimination that attempted to rob indigenous peoples of their rights, heritage, families, and culture. In residential schools, indigenous people were stripped of their culture, language, traditions, and safety. These horrors were compounded by the “sixties scoop” and continue to echo in today. It is a testament to the strength and power of all Indigenous people to have survived these attempt at genocide; and never to have faltered in their determination to be heard, respected, and valued.

Members of the Indigenous Council of our union urge CUPE Ontario members to use June 21 as an occasion to commit to learning more about Indigenous people by seeking out local celebrations their communities.

“Listen to the elders speak their teachings and words of wisdom. Support a local artist through music, beadwork, and art. Go to a powwow and experience the culture firsthand,” says Krystina McLeod, newly elected chair of CUPE Ontario’s Indigenous Council.

The Indigenous Council also urges CUPE Ontario locals and member to learn more about our union’s Water is Life campaign and take the Water is Life pledge, and to make use of resources available from CUPE National, including a Truth and Reconciliation bargaining guide to bargain language supporting Indigenous workers into collective agreements.