Residents of Thompson had a special reason to celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21.
During the opening ceremonies at MacLean Park, Charlene Lafreniere, chair of the Thompson Urban Aboriginal Strategy, reminded the hundreds of people in attendance that the city signed the Thompson Aboriginal Accord exactly 10 years ago.
Not only did this document affirm the role Indigenous people played in the city’s history, but it also outlined various strategies local officials can adopt to help bring about reconciliation.
These steps include improving lines of communication between the city and various Indigenous groups, increasing Indigenous investment in the local economy and ensuring that job opportunities for Indigenous people are readily available.
“We said then 10 years ago that it wasn’t just a plaque on the wall, it was about mutual respect,” said Lafreniere. “It was about relationships, it was about acknowledging the Indigenous people before the City of Thompson, acknowledging the contributions of the development of Thompson and the continued progress that we’ve seen.”
A 2018 progress report published by the city listed some of the steps they’ve taken to keep this process moving forward, like hosting an Aboriginal Skills and Employment Training Strategy conference in February of that year.
“I won’t lie, we’ve had our ups and downs, but we’re dealing with systemic change and there’s a lot of good leadership in this city and in this region working towards it,” said Lafreniere. “So make sure you take the time to celebrate and know that your leaders were doing land acknowledgements and partnerships far before any commission or report told us to.”
MacLean Park hosted a variety of other activities throughout Friday aimed at highlighting Indigenous culture and identity in its various forms.
Outside of traditional dancing and singing, the event organizers handed out their annual Soaring Eagle Awards, which highlight local youth achievement in areas like academics and volunteering.
To Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief Garrison Settee, these little displays are what makes National Indigenous Peoples Day so special, since it wasn’t long ago that there was a concerted effort to remove their culture from Canadian life.
“For years and years they tried to eradicate our people … they tried to take away our languages, our songs and culture,” he said. “But today, in 2019, we are still here and we will always be here. We are not going anywhere.”