National Indigenous Peoples Day: A Time to Celebrate Culture that May Trigger Elders

Colourful Powwow dancers at an Indigenous cultural celebration

National Indigenous Peoples Day was designated as an annual celebration of culture and heritage across Canada. But the day may be a painful reminder of past trauma for Indigenous Elders and vulnerable people who experienced abuse or neglect resulting from racism, the legacy of residential schools and/or “Indian hospitals.”

Many Indigenous Elders attended residential schools, as did their parents. They may not have been exposed to their local cultures as children, or even as adults. Some were unable to parent their own children and spent their lives battling trauma responses and painful memories. These vulnerable adults often need support and potentially more understanding during cultural holidays. Others may struggle after years of hiding their indigeneity.

Overcoming a Legacy of Abuse and Neglect

Victims of childhood abuse are often abused later in life, according to the National Re:Act education resources, and may be afraid to report as a result of their mistreatment or distrust of authorities, hospitals or police. Indigenous people are three times more likely to experience violence than non-Indigenous people. Incidents of abuse, neglect and self-neglect increase with age, disability and dependence.

Dr. Robert Joseph, First Nation Leader and Hereditary Chief, often speaks about the complex connection between these abuses with the legacy of colonialism and residential schools and the ongoing systemic racism that Indigenous people continue to experience. He stresses the need for organizations to self-examine their systems and incorporate the necessary practices to be trauma-informed and culturally safe.

Chief Joseph also asks, “Why are we being abusive to our Elder community? I think one reason is our elders have lost their sense of identity and role in mentoring and teaching and passing on knowledge.”

He calls for a “seismic shift” in attitudes around Elder abuse among Indigenous people.

Re:Act: A Tool to Increase Community and Family Capacity

Vancouver Coastal Health created the National Re:Act Manual (2011) as a manual for staff in response to the B.C. Adult Guardianship Act and the appointment of a designated agency. While it’s grounded in best practices for client care, it incorporates the wisdom, experience and teachings of Indigenous Elders, health and social service workers, advocates, academics, artists and community members.

The authors quote Coast Salish Elder Sarah Modeste whom they credit as the inspiration for the project: “We all have the power to self-heal as we have lived for thousands of years; the culture has been in us for thousands of years. It takes care of us. We are all medicine to one another.”

The premise of this approach is to ensure clients are approached in the best way possible, and cultural safety and respect are part of each step. It also offers teachings for non-Indigenous practitioners on approaches, protocols for First Nation and general community meetings, and working together to ensure the best protection and services for each client’s needs.

Several e-tools accompany the manual on the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority website. These e-tools were developed to assist educators, facilitators, community workers and CRNs.

The video, “With Love and Respect,” introduces the concept of Coordinated Community Response Networks in First Nations communities. This quick five-minute reenactment is a great way to demonstrate how a CRN works and includes the appropriate community support members.

Additional videos recreate case studies of a pair of vulnerable adults and the personalized solutions developed by the team, an interview with Dr. S. Calliou of the Michel band, and a discussion on the community response network movement.

Celebrating National Indigenous Peoples Day 2024 with Sensitivity

Communities and First Nations across B.C. will be hosting events on or around June 21  to celebrate National Indigenous People’s Day. Unless otherwise noted, these events welcome members of the public to learn, participate and enjoy the cultural offerings. These are an opportunity to connect with members of your community and learn about their beautiful culture. But do know that some Indigenous people may be sensitive that day and be mindful to give them room to also grieve the past.

Here is a partial list of events for National Indigenous People’s Day 2024 while local community listings may show many more.


Explore our website to learn more about BC CRN or connect with your local CRN for more information or resources.



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