Moving toward a more inclusive future during National Indigenous History Month

National Indigenous History Month provides an opportunity to celebrate the reclamation of truth during an unprecedented time, according to Indigenous ambassador, storyteller and artist Sarain Fox.

“That has to come first,” she says, noting that the month takes place against a heavy backdrop in which hundreds of unmarked graves were discovered over the past year.

“This June, I’m looking for big moments where settler communities stand in some truth so that we can move forward to a place where we can have an authentic celebration.”

The growing memorial for the victims of Canada’s Residential Schools.

Fox questions the very notion of one month in June being dedicated to recognizing Indigenous people, maintaining they should be celebrated every day as the founders, owners and governors of the land.

This sentiment is echoed by Lindsay Kretschmer, Executive Director of Aboriginal Legal Services. While the month is dedicated to celebrating Indigenous culture, heritage and achievements, she notes that we must work every day at reclaiming all the things that have been lost. This includes Indigenous language, ceremonies, customs and lands.

“June is an opportunity to reflect, learn, grow, recognize and celebrate Indigenous resiliency and success, as well as take a moment to be mindful that history and contemporary times are not necessarily separate from one another,” says Kretschmer, whose family comes from Six Nations of the Grand River Territory. Indigenous people continue to experience issues in contemporary society that cause harm within communities, and there’s a balance of positive and negative that needs to be considered and explored, she adds.

Small steps forward on a long journey

Kretschmer acknowledges there has been some progress in the government and non-profit sectors to foster a better understanding of the First Nations, Métis, and Inuit in Canada, with an emergence of recognition and a discussion taking place in a way that wasn’t happening two decades ago.

“This June, I’m looking for big moments where settler communities stand in some truth so that we can move forward to a place where we can have an authentic celebration.”

sarain fox

But despite these gains, there’s still a long way to go to truly understand what Indigenous inclusion – both within Canada and in day-to-day life – looks like. Kretschmer says paving a path forward that honours concepts from the Two Row Wampum will involve a lot of work to understand what self-determination and Indigenous rights look like, both from a legal and inherent perspective.

“There’s a long journey ahead for both Canadians and Indigenous people to understand what a new Canada looks like,” she says. “What does a New Turtle Island look like with respect to greater inclusion, understanding and empathy?” For some Indigenous people, Turtle Island refers to the continent of North America. The name is derived from various Indigenous oral histories that tell the story of a turtle that holds the world on its back.

Portrait of a local Inuk woman in Clyde River, Nunavut, Canada.

Kretschmer says one starting point is the education system, noting that entire generations have been miseducated and are passing this on to their children. Correcting this involves the federal government mandating that every province and territory reimagine its curriculum, and that this is consistently applied across the board. Re-educating children across the country is the only way to cultivate true awareness and understanding among future generations, Kretschmer notes.

Wyandot artist Nichole Leveck says we should also examine the Canadian citizenship test and consider what information newcomers to Canada are required to know. “There needs to be an understanding that Canada is not experienced the same by our Nations,” says Leveck, who also works as a coordinated service planner with 2 Spirited People of the 1st Nations, a partner of Surrey Place. Leveck questions why newcomers to the country aren’t required to learn about the Wampum belts, which Indigenous people used to record treaties.

She also believes that consultation with Indigenous communities should take place before any interactions with the land, noting that some environmental problems we’re dealing with today might not have happened if there had been consultation with Indigenous people first. “If that was implemented right from the beginning of settlement, the Don River would still be healthy and we would still be able to drink from it,” says Leveck.

Reimagining the future

I think what we’re seeing is a reclamation of real self-determination and it’s happening via vessels that I would have never imagined.”


A long, arduous road lies ahead. Undertaking the important work of reconciliation means Indigenous people need to be heard, seen, and included at every turn, in all discussions. To this end, social media has proven invaluable by providing a platform for Indigenous activists. Social media apps like TikTok provide an outlet for Indigenous people to express themselves, increase visibility and provide access to a wider audience, while also promoting a sense of belonging.

Fox points to young Indigenous activists and artists representing in important ways on social media. Examples include Indigenous artist and educator James Jones (who is also known as Notorious Cree) and Inuk singer and activist Shina Novalinga. As young people leverage social channels to talk about important issues, this is ultimately having an impact on policy.

“I think what we’re seeing is a reclamation of real self-determination and it’s happening via vessels that I would have never imagined,” says Fox, adding that TikTok and Instagram are “fueling the revolution right now among young people.”

This type of activism can have huge ripple effects, and ultimately surfaces important big-picture questions. As we seek to achieve deeper understanding and greater truth while undergoing the process of reconciliation, we need to simultaneously define our vision for the future. What does Indigenous futurism look like?

Six Nations Turtle Island powwow gate opening.

Answering this involves examining our past, discussing problems that persist and must be addressed in the present, and imagining how Indigenous people will exist in the future.

According to Kretschmer, the way forward for Canada lies in the restoration of the Two Row Wampum, one of the oldest treaty relationships between the Onkwehonweh (original people) of Turtle Island (North America) and European immigrants.

“It is the restoration of our original ways of knowing, seeing, being and doing, in parallel and equal to the rest of Canada,” she says. Achieving this entails the reassembly of Indigenous ways of behaving and living. “It’s our overall well-being and the totality of what it means to be Indigenous.”

Building awareness and promoting inclusion: what Canadians can do

National Indigenous History Month is an opportunity to deeply consider our own origin stories and personal history. “I hope Canadians reflect each and every day on their origin stories and tie themselves not only to the concept of being Canadian, but the concept of legacy,” says Fox. While all Canadians have origin stories that connect them to their native lands, they must also allow space for Indigenous narratives to shine through. “We have the opportunity this month to look to Indigenous people and see where they are leading the way,” says Fox.

“There needs to be an understanding that Canada is not experienced the same by our Nations.”


Although several large-scale systemic issues need to be addressed at the government level, there are steps individual Canadians can take to deepen their understanding and become better allies to the First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples. Fox recommends engaging with Indigenous content, available on streaming platforms like CBC Gem, Amazon Prime, Hulu and Netflix Canada.

“If you love pop culture, then watch Reservation Dogs, or host a movie night and just take in Indigenous content,” she says. “Watching how we make our own content is a beautiful way to start.” She recommends listening to Indigenous music, seeking out perspectives on the news by Indigenous journalists, and supporting Indigenous businesses.

A drum circle takes place on the Vimy Memorial Band Shell in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

Canadians can also cultivate greater awareness and understanding by getting to know Indigenous people who live within their community. To help promote change, Fox recommends finding out whether local schools offer an Indigenous language program; if none exists, she suggests finding out how to make one happen.

“There’s a long journey ahead for both Canadians and Indigenous people to understand what a new Canada looks like. What does a New Turtle Island look like with respect to greater inclusion, understanding and empathy?”

Lindsay kretschmer

Social services and advocacy groups help address inequities by employing Indigenous staff, providing accessible services to Indigenous communities, and supporting marginalized Indigenous community members, including those who identify as 2SLGBTQ+, live with a developmental disability or are coping with a mental health challenge.

Two community organizations that Surrey Place works closely with include:

Finally, Canadians should proactively advocate for Indigenous people to have equal representation within all spheres of daily life, according to Kretschmer. “If you can get into a room that I can’t get in, then advocate for us to have a seat at that table,” she says.

Referencing an article she once read, Kretschmer says that meaningful allyship means being more of an accomplice. “I like that term better because it means that you’re down to do whatever needs to be done,” she says. “True allyship means you’re going with us on that journey.”

By 2 months

Has your baby had their hearing screened? YES NO

By 6 months

Does the child?

Startle in response to loud noises? YES NO
Turn to where a sound is coming from? YES NO
Make different cries for different needs (hungry, tired)? YES NO
Watch your face as you talk? YES NO
Smile/laugh in response to your smiles and laughs? YES NO
Imitate coughs or other sounds such as ah, eh, buh YES NO

By 9 months

Does the child?

Respond to their name? YES NO
Respond to the telephone ringing or a knock at the door? YES NO
Understand being told no? YES NO
Get what they want through using gestures (reaching to be picked up)? YES NO
Play social games with you (Peek-a-Boo)? YES NO
Enjoy being around people? YES NO
Babble and repeat sounds such as babababa or duhduhduh? YES NO

By 12 months

Does the child?

Follow simple one-step directions (sit down)? YES NO
Look across the room to a toy when adult points at it? YES NO
Consistently use three to five words? YES NO
Use gestures to communicate (waves hi/bye, shakes head for no)? YES NO
Get your attention using sounds, gestures and pointing while looking at your eyes? YES NO
Bring you toys to show you? YES NO
Perform for social attention and praise? YES NO
Combine lots of sounds together as though talking (abada baduh abee)? YES NO
Show an interest in simple picture books? YES NO

By 18 months

Does the child?

Understand the meaning of in and out, off and on? YES NO
Point to more than 2 body parts when asked? YES NO
Use at least 20 words consistently? YES NO
Respond with words or gestures to simple questions (Where's teddy? What's that?)? YES NO
Demonstrate some pretend play with toys (gives teddy bear a drink, pretends a bowl is a hat)? YES NO
Make at least four different consonant sounds (p ,b, m, n, d, g, w, h)? YES NO
Enjoy being read to and sharing simple books with you? YES NO
Point to pictures using one finger? YES NO

By 2 years

Does the child?

Follow two-step directions (Go find your teddy bear and show it to Grandma.)? YES NO
Use 100 to 150 words? YES NO
Use at least two pronouns (you, me, mine)? YES NO
Consistently combine two to four words in short phrases (Daddy hat. Truck go down.)? YES NO
Enjoy being around other children? YES NO
Begin to offer toys to other children and imitate other children's actions and words? YES NO
Use words that are understood by others 50 to 60 per cent of the time? YES NO
Form words or sounds easily and without effort? YES NO
Hold books the right way up and turn the pages? YES NO
Read to stuffed animals or toys? YES NO
Scribble with crayons? YES NO

By 30 months

Does the child?

Understand the concepts of size (big/little) and quantity (a little/a lot, more)? YES NO
Use some adult grammar (two cookies, bird flying, I jumped)? YES NO
Use over 350 words? YES NO
Use action words such as run, spill, fall? YES NO
Participate in some turn-taking activities with peers, using both words and toys? YES NO
Demonstrate concern when another child is hurt or sad? YES NO
Combine several actions in play (puts blocks in the train and drives the train, drops the blocks off.)? YES NO
Put sounds at the beginning of most words? YES NO
Use words with two or more syllables or beats (ba-na-na, com-pu-ter, a-pple)? YES NO
Recognize familiar logos and signs involving print (Stop sign)? YES NO
Remember and understand familiar stories? YES NO

By 3 years

Does the child?

Understand who, what, where and why questions? YES NO
Create long sentences using five to eight words? YES NO
Talk about past events (trip to grandparents house, day at child care)? YES NO
Tell simple stories? YES NO
Show affection for favourite playmates? YES NO
Engage in multi-step pretend play (pretending to cook a meal, repair a car)? YES NO
Talk in a way that most people outside of the family understand what she/he is saying most of the time? YES NO
Have an understanding of the function of print (menus, lists, signs)? YES NO
Show interest in, and awareness of, rhyming words? YES NO
Read to stuffed animals or toys? YES NO
Scribble with crayons? YES NO

By 4 years

Does the child?

Follow directions involving three or more steps (First get some paper, then draw a picture and give it to Mommy)? YES NO
Use adult type grammar? YES NO
Tell stories with a beginning, middle and end? YES NO
Talk to try and solve problems with adults and with other children? YES NO
Show increasingly complex imaginary play? YES NO
Talk in a way that is understood by strangers almost all the time? YES NO
Generate simple rhymes (cat-bat)? YES NO
Match some letters with their sounds (letter b says buh, letter t says tuh)? YES NO