How do we observe Canada Day in N.L. this year? Indigenous voices, politicians weigh in

·6 min read
John Jeddore is a Mi'kmaq medical resident at Memorial University. He says it's time to reimagine Canada Day and it's history following the findings of umarked graves at former residential schools across the country. (Mark Cumby/CBC - image credit)
John Jeddore is a Mi'kmaq medical resident at Memorial University. He says it's time to reimagine Canada Day and it's history following the findings of umarked graves at former residential schools across the country. (Mark Cumby/CBC - image credit)
Mark Cumby/CBC
Mark Cumby/CBC

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

The discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves at former residential schools in Saskatchewan and British Columbia is prompting debate across the country on the merits of celebrating Canada Day, and the conversation hasn't skipped Newfoundland and Labrador.

Indigenous community members, politicians and multiple municipalities across the province are pitching a different way to observe July 1 this year in the wake of the tragic findings.

"It's tough to celebrate anything right now, in my opinion," said John Nick Jeddore, a neurology resident at Memorial University from Miawpukek First Nation. "These stories have been present since lived experiences have been in Canada ... but they're absolutely gut wrenching when they're confirmed."

Inuk singer Deantha Edmunds echoed the sentiment, telling CBC Radio's Weekend AM she'll be observing July 1 through song at Bannerman Park in St. John's.

"We just couldn't think about Canada Day this year, because it doesn't feel appropriate to celebrate. We were talking about how do we move through this. And so we were thinking that a thoughtful way to gather could be spending some time outside in nature," Edmunds said.

"I feel like all the emotions I'm having, I can't find the words for. So it's kind of difficult to talk, but I'm always able to sing."

CBC
CBC

While calls to "cancel" Canada Day this year ripple across the country, Jeddore said he sees the day as an opportunity to learn and listen. He personally plans to spend it reading and sharing stories.

"I think it's time that we redefine what 'Canada Day' means. It can be a day of reflection, a day of recognizing that we're building a country that has a lot of opportunities for a lot of people. But it's also ... a day of recognizing that Canada is not perfect. It's never been perfect, but it doesn't mean we can't continue to improve.

"For me, it's not about cancelling your pride and being happy about where you're from, it's about changing the tone of the conversation, so that we can all collectively celebrate Canada someday."

Expanding N.L.'s Memorial Day

Thursday will also mark Memorial Day for Newfoundland and Labrador, remembering the soldiers who lost their lives as part of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment at Beaumont Hamel.

Jeremy Eaton/CBC
Jeremy Eaton/CBC

Jeddore suggests expanding Memorial Day to include the history of residential schools, to "reflect and look at the history that Canada has kind of propped itself on."

"Anyone who truly wants to be proud to call Canada their home also needs to know there's a lot of baggage that comes with Canada," he said.

"It gives us an opportunity to learn from the terrible things that have happened ... and try to improve the Canada we all love, or want to love, for future generations."

What politicians are saying

St. John's South–Mount Pearl MP Seamus O'Regan, who also serves as minister of natural resources, told reporters at an event this week he will be reflecting on what more needs to be done.

"I'll be taking that time myself to reflect myself, as a Canadian, as Newfoundlander [and] Labradorian, a former minister of Indigenous services, on what we need to do better," he said.

When asked specifically about an increased effort to cancel Canada Day celebratory events, O'Regan replied: "I don't know. It's a personal moment. We're used to a more sombre tone on Memorial Day … I will be remembering the men who sacrificed so much on our Memorial Day and then I will be thinking very deeply about how much more we need to do in the path of reconciliation that we have started."

Some towns cancel July 1 fireworks

Several municipalities have issued statements and said they will not go ahead with July 1 fireworks.

In nearly identical statements, the towns of Wabana and Portugal Cove- St. Philips say this is "in recognition and support of the Indigenous communities throughout the country and our province."

Each encouraged people to reflect and educate themselves on the residential school system.

The town of Petty Harbour-Maddox Cove also cited similar reasons, while the City of Corner Brook decided at Monday night's council meeting it will be holding off on Canada Day fireworks.

City of St. John's statement draws criticism

The City of St. John's media release was less direct than some of the smaller towns and cities about why it was forgoing July 1 activities.

"Due to continued COVID-19 restrictions, the City is not recognizing Canada Day in the usual way this year. There are no fireworks, or in-person events being held. City Council are asking residents to take this time to reflect, and to acknowledge the importance of working together to build a stronger Canada," reads the statement.

The release listed links to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the National Inquiry into the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, but did not mention Indigenous communities or any of the recent tragic events.

The omission did not go unnoticed, and the criticism was swift.

"Other cities and towns have had no problem stating why they're not celebrating. If you're standing with Indigenous peoples, say so. Don't try to skirt around this to appease anti-indigenous Canadians," said one Twitter user, named Thomas on your Side.

"I don't know why they bailed on framing the decision appropriately. I support the decision and I'm sure others may not but to duck the issue and blame covid is pretty cowardly," said Rick Magill.

The City tried to clarify its stance, saying, "We apologize if our social media post left the impression that this was the full reason for our change in plans. In fact, this is only half the story."

It elaborated by saying that "We also recognize that this year is not a year for celebration, which is why our public service announcement also calls on residents to take the day for reflection and education on indigenous issues."

In follow up questions from CBC, a city spokesperson told CBC News that a decision not to purchase fireworks was made in March.

When asked why an announcement was made only two days ahead of time, a spokesperson responded, "We have not been in a position to announce our plans until today as we have continued to modify what we feel is appropriate."

Support is available for anyone affected by the lingering effects of residential school and those who are triggered by the latest reports.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for residential school survivors and others affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.

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