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The Unity Button

Until we came to Canada I’d always thought that the term “aboriginal” referred solely to the indigenous people of Australia. But its definition is:

“Inhabiting or existing in a land from the earliest times; indigenous”


So here, “aboriginal” refers to the many indigenous tribes of Canada, collectively First Nations, Inuit and Metis.

First Nations people include hundreds of different tribes, each with their own culture, customs, legends and character, whose cultures span thousands of years. Some of their oral traditions describe historical events like the Cascadia earthquake of 1700. Haida, Blackfoot, Cree, Chipewyan, Mi’kmaq, Algonquin, Iroquois and Squamish are just a few examples.

Inuit are a distinctive group of indigenous people who live throughout most of the Canadian arctic and sub-arctic in parts of Nunavut, northern Quebec, Labrador and the Northwest Territories.

Metis is the name given to aboriginals who can trace their decent to mixed First Nations and European heritage. Metis homelands stretch across Canada and into parts of the northern United States.


Today T brought a Unity button home from school. The button (or badge as we call them in Britain) is a circle divided into black, white, red and yellow quarters.  It’s a reminder of the teachings related to the Medicine Wheel.

The Medicine Wheel

In traditional aboriginal storytelling, many Elders teach about equality and respect for all people of the four colours. The Medicine Wheel represents Harmony and Connections and is a major symbol of peaceful interaction among all living beings. It’s also symbolic of the wheel of life, always evolving and bringing new lessons and truths to the paths we walk.

A message of pride and respect

The message behind the bright unity button is the celebration of our individuality as well as the diversity of our many nations. The most important part of the button is the centre where the nations meet and join in the Spirit of Unity.

Modern Canada has a chequered relationship with its indigenous population – many First Nations people endure sub-standard housing and education, discrimination and systemic unemployment leading to heartbreaking levels of substance abuse. Premier Stephen Harper’s recent apology, on behalf of all Canadians, about Indian residential schools was a major step towards reconciliation, and it’s great to see schools taking the initiative and bringing aboriginal heritage into the classroom and into the consciousness of the next generation.

A note accompanying the button read,

“To wear this symbol is to proclaim pride in your own culture and to show respect for all cultures around the world. It is a means to spark discussion and communication between differing cultures along with promoting pride in the Aboriginal Nations.”

Reading it made my heart swell…