Tuesday, June 21, 2017 is National Aboriginal Day, a day for all Canadians to recognize and celebrate the cultures and contributions of the Indigenous peoples of Canada. The day was first celebrated in 1996. Since 2011, the week leading up to National Aboriginal Day is known locally as Aboriginal Awareness Week Calgary (AAWC). This blog was written by Waylon Yellowhorn, Strong Voices Program Coordinator at HIV Community Link:

waylonOki, my name is Waylon Yellowhorn and I am a member of the Piikani Nation of the Blackfoot Confederacy. I would like to take this time to acknowledge that we are in the traditional homeland of the Siksika, Piikani, Kainai and Blackfeet tribes of the Blackfoot Confederacy, and I would also like to acknowledge the member tribes of the Tsuut’ina and Stoney Nakoda of the Treaty Seven area, and the Metis Nation of Alberta Region 3.

I am the Aboriginal Program Coordinator for the Strong Voices Program at HIV Community Link. The Strong Voices Program is a culturally informed outreach and support program, funded through the City of Calgary Family & Community Support Services. Our goal is to build wellness through cultural knowledge, participation and identity, while reducing risk and addressing immediate needs for Indigenous communities. Through a Harm Reduction approach, the Strong Voices Program provides case management and outreach support to individuals in the Aboriginal community in the city of Calgary.

As Canada marks its 150th birthday this year, National Aboriginal Day on June 21st is a stark reminder of the legacy of government policies of genocide, colonization, assimilation, subjugation, residential schools and the Sixties scoop that still resonate in the Aboriginal community today. Aboriginal people still live with the effects of these policies today. Because of the severe spiritual, mental, emotional and physical trauma that was endured, these experiences have had a profound effect on families and individuals. These negative effects have manifested in a number of ways, such as spiritual, mental, emotional and physical illnesses, which have contributed to the marginalization, poverty, incarceration, and discrimination of the Aboriginal community.

Programs such as Strong Voices are crucial in mitigating the effects of these government policies. By assisting Aboriginal individuals through a holistic approach, we can help empower people and in turn they can then contribute positively to their families and to the Aboriginal community.