Some N.W.T. communities are modifying or cancelling Canada Day this year

·3 min read
April Martel, chief of Kátł'odeeche First Nation, says her community is mostly in support of cancelling Canada Day events. (Anna Desmarais/CBC - image credit)
April Martel, chief of Kátł'odeeche First Nation, says her community is mostly in support of cancelling Canada Day events. (Anna Desmarais/CBC - image credit)

Kátł'odeeche First Nation in Hay River is among some communities in the Northwest Territories choosing to cancel its Canada Day celebrations.

Chief April Martel said the decision was made after consulting council, elders and community members following the discovery of the remains of children at former residential school sites across the country.

"A lot of the community members support [it]," Martel told Trail's End guest host, Jared Monkman, on Friday.

Martel said the cancellation is "in honour of the residential school babies" in a post on Facebook, which featured a graphic that compared celebrating Canada Day to throwing a party next to a funeral.

"If you knew your neighbours were having a funeral for their kids, would you shoot off fireworks in your backyard and throw a party," it said.

The post also says every town and city in Canada that wants to hold an event should get permission from the nearby Indigenous communities.

"Better yet," it said, "their mayors should have to look a residential school survivor in the eyes and ask. If you don't you can — it's simple — don't have fireworks."

Instead, on July 1 at around 1 p.m. the community will hold a fire feeding ceremony, tea dance in the old village at the residential school monument. The ceremony will start at 1:23 p.m. (13:23, as the number of children believed to have been discovered so far is 1,323).

People are asked to wear orange to the event.

Anna Desmarais/CBC
Anna Desmarais/CBC

Martel said news of more unmarked graves at residential schools recently is "traumatizing" for many community members, some who lived through residential schools and are starting to tell their stories.

"They phoned me, and they told me and they cried — and I cried, because it's really painful," she said.

"It's not over, and it's never going to be over."

Martel said Canada has a lot of work to do when it comes to reconciling with residential school survivors. Some people in the community are asking for the grounds near its former residential school be checked too, though she says that's something that will need to get approval from elders.

For now, she says the graveyard in the area is being cleaned up, in case the community does go ahead with a search.

Other communities pulling the plug

Kátł'odeeche First Nation isn't alone in cancelling its annual Canada events — communities across the country have announced they would be forgoing Canada's birthday celebrations, including Victoria, B.C.

The Hay River Métis Government Council posted a statement on its Facebook page saying it would not be celebrating Canada Day "out of respect for the hundreds of children that did not make it home from various schools."

The City of Yellowknife and the Yellowknives Dene First Nation said they will be honouring Indigenous peoples and acknowledging the past with an event on July 1 at Somba K'e Civic Plaza.

The Rotary Club of Yellowknife said it would be meeting Saturday to discuss its annual Canada Day parade, in light of the discoveries at former residential school sites.

In Fort Simpson, meanwhile, Mayor Sean Whelly said his community would be moving forward with festivities.

"Because we've gone through COVID and we went through the flood, we wanted to have that activity go on for the children," he told CBC News on Saturday, adding that he's "well aware" of a push to cancel Canada Day because of its residential school history.

"It's something that has to be addressed; we can't put our heads in the sand. It's maybe not a reason to disavow Canada itself, it's a reason to make Canada better."

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