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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau takes part in the National Aboriginal Day Sunrise Ceremony on the banks of the Ottawa River in Gatineau, Quebec on Tuesday, June 21, 2016.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in vintage form Tuesday as he took part in a ceremony marking the 20th annual National Aboriginal Day.

Trudeau attended a sunrise ritual on the shore of the Ottawa River wearing moccasins and a buckskin jacket that the Prime Minister's Office said was owned by his father, the late Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

The former prime minister was known in his younger years for donning buckskin before venturing out on canoeing expeditions in Canada's far north.

In photos: PM observes Aboriginal Day sunrise ceremony wearing father's buckskin

As the sun rose beyond a bridge linking Quebec and Ontario, the younger Trudeau was bathed with a ceremonial smoke as part of a smudging ceremony before paddling beneath the Parliament Buildings in a 10-metre cargo canoe.

The federal government began observing National Aboriginal Day on June 21 two decades ago.

This year, the tribute in the national capital region took place outside Canada's Museum of History with several federal cabinet ministers and local MPs in attendance.

Trudeau didn't speak publicly at the event, but issued a statement in which he encouraged Canadians to learn more about the country's indigenous heritage.

"National Aboriginal Day is first and foremost an occasion to celebrate the fundamental role First Nations, Metis, and Inuit have played — and continue to play — in shaping the identity of all Canadians," the statement said.

"Coast to coast to coast, their remarkable art and cultures, significant contributions and history, are essential to our sense of nationhood."

Trudeau also pointed to a rash of recent suicides in some aboriginal communities, and the feelings of despair felt by some indigenous Canadians, as reasons for governments to "better support the well-being of children and families, improve the quality of education for indigenous students, and ensure health services meet the needs of indigenous communities."

Elsewhere in Ottawa, the Senate's Aboriginal Peoples committee opening its doors to 12 indigenous youth leaders from across Canada to hear their concerns about the future of their communities, their families and their people.

"This government is opening doors right now but I think a lot of our communities are still having that hopeful anxiety of ... 'Is (there) actually going to be action put forth,"' said 29-year-old Justin Holness, a member of Saskatchewan's Ocean Man First Nation.

"I still feel as though action needs to be implemented on a nationwide scale."

Suicide has been a long-standing problem for aboriginal communities, not a more recent phenomenon, added 18-year-old Shelby Angalik from Arviat, Nunavut.

"No one really likes to talk about it," she said.

"Suicide is what we go through all the time, not just now. The government focuses on what we put out (now) but there are a lot of issues we don't talk about drug abuse and substance abuse and mental health."

During last year's federal election, the Liberals campaigned on a platform that promised to boost support for Canada's indigenous peoples, and to launch a national public inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women.

"This government has a lot to accomplish in a short amount of time and I hope they will be able to achieve the goals they have set out," said 25-year-old Caitlin Tolley, a third-year law student at the University of Ottawa who is from Quebec's Kitigan-Zibi First Nation.

"The biggest impression (of this government) has been the importance of addressing the inquiry (into missing and murdered indigenous women) and the actions taken against violence towards indigenous women."

The delegation of young indigenous leaders ranged in age from 18 to 38.

Gov. Gen. David Johnston marked the day Tuesday by visiting the Woodland Cultural Centre, a former residential school in Brantford, Ont.

The visit, Johnston said in a statement, would help "to better measure the impact that such institutions have had on Aboriginal Peoples."

In 2008, then-prime minister Stephen Harper apologized on behalf of the government for the multi-generational upheaval created by more than a century of residential schools, which sought to assimilate aboriginal youth into Canadian society.

The last residential school closed in 1996.