Making room for learning and unlearning in June

In 2017, the month of June was named National Indigenous History Month by the House of Commons, updating it from its previous status as National Aboriginal History Month in 2009. It is a month where we are invited to honour the histories, achievements and resilience of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples, as we lead up to National Indigenous Peoples Day on the summer solstice, June 21. 

Ideally we would already have robust knowledge of Indigenous history, particularly that of any nations whose territory we have lived within, and the nations whose people we are most likely to encounter in the context of our practice. Sometimes official days and months of recognition can help to galvanize some extra authoritative weight to the necessary learning and unlearning that must be done, for us to raise awareness and begin to work more intentionally toward truth and reconciliation.

As social workers, it is especially important that we center our learning and unlearning in this area. Our professional obligations were named in the Canadian Association of Social Workers’ Statement of Apology & Commitment to Reconciliation in 2019, and the 2024 CASW Code of Ethics places this commitment as a central component of ethical social work practice.

Similarly, NSCSW’s professional development standards were updated a few years ago to specifically require engaging in activities that can help us to be better treaty partners and to work toward the restorative justice that is urgently needed, and we have been offering learning opportunities to support Nova Scotian social workers in pursuing this knowledge. Our evolving understanding of this ethical requirement is also reflected in the commitments and objectives of the NSCSW’s latest strategic plan

There are many other “officially” designated honours for the month of June, from celebrations of ethnic belonging and national origin (e.g. Italian Heritage Month, Filipino Heritage Month, Portuguese Heritage Month) to public health appeals for awareness and action (e.g. Canadian Men’s Health Month, Brain Injury Awareness Month, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Awareness). It would be too easy to turn June into a fierce competition for attention and advocacy resources, fostering lateral violence instead of solidarity. 

In particular, June is also Pride Month to honour the Stonewall Uprising that began June 28, 1969, in the contemporary and ancestral homelands of the Canarsie, Munsee Lenape, and Wappinger people (aka Manhattan, New York). It marks the beginning of an ongoing Pride season that stretches through summer and into early fall, with both joyous celebrations and more serious observances held across Mi’kma’ki, Turtle Island, and many other parts of the world.

Gender and sexuality have long been weaponized for colonial purposes. Diverse gender norms existed in many Indigenous nations across Turtle Island long before those of settler descent arrived here. The Two-Spirit umbrella term was created in 1990 to encompass many nation-specific identities and roles that colonial societies had suppressed because these ways of being did not align with the strict binary gender roles preferred by their cultures of origin. Advocating for 2SLGBTQIA+ human rights is therefore intrinsically intertwined with our commitments to reconciliation. 

It is urgently necessary to pursue transformative changes in attitudes, behaviours, and knowledge within our broader society to address the root causes of systemic racism, inequality, injustice, and violence against Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQIA+ people. Critical work must be done to address the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action, as well as the Reclaiming Power and Place calls for justice that have informed the goals and priorities of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA+ People National Action Plan.

The Mi’kmaq phrase Msit No’kmaq means “all my relations” and refers to the traditional understanding that everything in the universe is interconnected; everyone and everything has a purpose and is worthy of respect. This aligns with the solidarity and allyship that is also found in the Africentric principle of Ubuntu: I am because you are, and I am because we are.  

The idea that we need to focus our advocacy and allyship narrowly in ways that limit our solidarity is absurd. We are all related, and our shared liberation is and must be intersectional. By engaging in activities this month that foster reconciliation and justice, we can bring a deep foundational healing that can extend to all living beings, reconnecting us back to this planet and working collaboratively to realign ourselves with the land-based Mi’kmaq teachings and values that must ground us all. 

Learning & unlearning opportunities

We’ve loosely organized these to align with this year’s weekly themes of National Indigenous History Month. If you know of something we’ve missed, especially local/regional events open to the public, please leave your recommendations in the comments.

Environment, traditional knowledge & territory

Children & youth

Languages, cultures & arts

Women, girls & 2SLGBTQIA+ people

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