Canada Day: Some Communities Still Consider Residential School Legacy

Many communities commemorate Canada Day celebrations to recognize Indigenous peoples as the country continues to consider its legacy after the discovery of possible unmarked graves in former residential schools.

“Being Canadian is dealing with these really difficult things,” said Sean Carleton, an assistant professor of history and indigenous studies at the University of Manitoba.

“Being Canadian, right now, means thinking about the history of colonialism and residential schools as a way of trying to build new, better, and stronger relationships.”

Coast to coast organizers say they are trying to balance celebrations of Canadian pride with reflections on the country’s difficult history with indigenous peoples.

Some events were silenced last year amid a sense of collective grief after possible graves were found on the former grounds of the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia. Since then, more possible graves have been found across the country.

On Canada Day in Winnipeg last year, thousands of people – dressed in orange in honor of residential school survivors – took to the streets in a demonstration that led to the toppling of statues of Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth on legislature grounds from Manitoba.

This year, organizers of the major Canada Day celebration in the Forks — a major site for Indigenous peoples in downtown Winnipeg — renamed the event “A New Day”, canceled fireworks and promised events that will be both reflective and festive. .

The decision was locally controversial, but Carleton praised the organizers for listening to what Indigenous people in the city were asking.

The holiday itself is recent. Canada Day was created in 1982 to replace Dominion Day, celebrating the connection of the Confederation and Canada with the British Empire and the Imperial project.

Carleton said national holidays are an opportunity to continually define who we want to be as Canadians and not have to be static.

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In developing plans for Saskatoon, Canada Day project director Shad Ali began looking at the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and consulting with Indigenous partners. He was encouraged to use the holiday as an opportunity to educate people about the true history of the country.

Raising awareness about injustice helps build the nation Canada should be, Ali added.

“I want that to be a nation that remains strong and free, a nation that we want to guard against,” Ali said, holding back tears. “That’s where I chose my life as an immigrant.”

The organizers in Vancouver have renamed their event “Canada Together” and have adopted the theme of “weaving together the fabric of a nation.” The purpose of this day is to come together, celebrate, learn and share.

The 36th annual event at Canada Place in Vancouver Harbor has often featured Indigenous programming in the past, but this year organizers teamed up with representatives from the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations to create the day’s events, Gillian said. Behnke, community relations and events manager with the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority.

“We got a lot of support from the local nations. They said, ‘Yes, we see this as an event that must go on, but with a different purpose,'” she said.

The organizers have committed to working with the First Nations in Canada Day planning in the future.

Halifax will also have a redesigned event developed in collaboration with Indigenous communities. It is intended to honor the traditions of the Mi’kmaq nation and celebrate its indigenous communities, said Cheryl Copage-Gehue, the city’s indigenous community engagement adviser.

Last year events were canceled and residents were encouraged to use the time for reflection.

Copage-Gehue, Mi’kmaq of Sipekne’katik First Nation, said this year’s event is an opportunity to get in touch with peace and friendship — the true intent of the original treaties.

“It’s an opportunity to learn from our collective tragic past…and how we can move forward together and make this a better place for our Indigenous and settler communities to live together.”

Education about colonialism and residential schools should be included in every Canada Day event, said Lisa Howell, a professor at the University of Ottawa and one of the organizers of the Reimagine Canada Day project.

Developed by educators and Indigenous members after the discovery of the possible graves, the project offers a self-guided tour of Ottawa to learn about the country’s history.

“There is a myth among Canadians that colonialism is a thing of our past and that that myth prevents us from understanding the injustices and injustices that are happening today,” she said.

Howell said people can continue to be proud of being Canadian. But they must also recognize that building a better and more equitable relationship with First Nations, Inuit and Métis people is part of that identity.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on June 30, 2022.

— With files from Dirk Meissner in Victoria

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