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Aboriginal Day

Aboriginal Day 2019 and 2020

Aboriginal Day is a statutory holiday every 21 June in Northwest Territories and Yukon to appreciate the cultures of the Inuit, Metis, and “First Nations”.

Year Date Day Holiday Provinces and Territories
2019 21 Jun Fri Aboriginal Day NT & YT
2020 21 Jun Sun Aboriginal Day NT & YT

There was a long, hard-fought movement to finally get a holiday on the Canadian calendar to celebrate the contribution of aboriginal groups to Canadian life, culture, and history. June 21 was chosen as the date for a couple of reasons. First, it is the day of the summer solstice, which means it is warmer than usual in Northwest Territories and other far-north areas of the nation. Second, many aboriginal tribes already had traditional celebrations of their heritage on June 21.

In Northwest Territories, the Dene, Inuvialuit, and Metis are the main specific Indian tribes honoured on Aboriginal Day. In Yukon, key First Nations tribes include the Gwitchin, Han, Northern and Southern Tutchone, Kaska, Tagish, and Tlingit. These groups each have their own language, culture, and history. There are festivals throughout Canada, and especially in Northwest Territories, that educate and entertain by showcasing the song, dance, art, games, foods, and other traditional cultural features of the various aboriginal groups.

Some of the types of activities that abound on Aboriginal Day include: summer solstice celebrations, barbecues, social gatherings with native singing and dancing, scared fire-extinguishing ceremonies, and traditional-style feasts, where such “dainties” as moose stew and flat, “fry (pan-fried) bread” are served.

Should you venture to the far north around June 21, some Aboriginal Day activities to attend in Northwest Territories include:

  • Attend the “main event,” which is the Summer Solstice Celebration in Yellowknife, the capital city of Northwest Territories. It can run for hours and hours each day for five days straight, and it draws up to 15,000 attendees from all over Canada and beyond. There are over 100 performers, cultural learning workshops, food stalls, souvenir stalls, face painters, jugglers, tellers of aboriginal tales, theatrical performances, drum dancing, hoop dancing, canoe rides, native sewing demonstrations, and caribou hide-tanning events. There is also a much-acclaimed “midnight sun” golf tournament and a fun and festive shaving cream street fight.
  • Also in Yellowknife, you will find there are many other events, some of which recur annually. You might find a free-to-attend fish fry, for example, in Somba K’e Park put on by the North Slave Metis Alliance. A parade and fish fry is also put on in Fort Resolution, and in Fort Smith, there are cultural tents and a native hand-games contest.
  • Look for an ice hockey game put on by the amateur-level Northwest Territories Hockey Association, which is a branch of Hockey North, which is a branch of Hockey Canada. They put on events as they travel in Northwest Territories and the neighboring territory of Nunavut, which is sort of “backwards” in a way since ice hockey was originally inspired by aboriginal peoples in Canada.