Several P.E.I. communities consulting with First Nations about Canada Day celebrations

·3 min read
This photo from Canada Day 2017 shows nearly 500 people who took part in a living flag in Charlottetown. Many communities across Canada are looking at how to celebrate differently this year.  (City of Charlottetown - image credit)
This photo from Canada Day 2017 shows nearly 500 people who took part in a living flag in Charlottetown. Many communities across Canada are looking at how to celebrate differently this year. (City of Charlottetown - image credit)

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

Several Prince Edward Island communities are reaching out to the province's First Nations to talk about how to mark Canada Day.

Following the discovery of almost 1000 unmarked graves at former residential schools in British Columbia and Saskatchewan, several communities across Canada have debated holding Canada Day celebrations.

Here in P.E.I., the Town of Cornwall decided to include Indigenous healing ceremonies as part of their Canada Day plans.

Coun. Elaine Barnes said it's long overdue to recognize Indigenous trauma on Canada Day.

"Moving forward, we need to do more. We need to reach out to others to find out what else we can do to be more inclusive. And this is just a first step in that process," she said.

"What we had decided to do was reach out to the [Mi'kmaq Confederacy of P.E.I.] and try to see if we could find someone that would be able to perform a ceremony here in the circle of peace here in Cornwall and just as a way of moving forward together."

Steve Bruce/CBC
Steve Bruce/CBC

Indigenous people make Canada the nation it is, Barnes said.

"They're an asset to Canada and we need to recognize them. They're part of what makes Canada great," she said.

Barnes said some members of the community reached out to her asking if celebrations will be cancelled or balanced with a moment to reflect on the recent discoveries.

Having healing ceremonies on Canada Day is a step toward reconciliation, she said, but celebrating Indigenous people on Canada Day is still far from enough.

"As a community, families want to recognize the wrong side of what happened in our country, and having a healing ceremony here, it allows everyone to come together," she said.

Shane Hennessey/CBC
Shane Hennessey/CBC

Abegweit First Nation Chief Junior Gould said Canada Day is a great day to celebrate the nation's success, however the ill history of Canada should also be remembered.

He wants Canadians to reflect on the discoveries of unmarked graves.

"The average Canadian citizen can take a second and pause and say, 'Hey, the First Nations communities were right. They've been telling this story for a long time.' Let's acknowledge that and give them the power to speak to the truth."

Abegweit First Nation community members will join Canada Day celebrations outside their community, but will do so wearing an orange shirt, Gould said.

"What I'm hearing from the community is that each and every community member wants to support an orange shirt just to be recognized and identify that it is a part of it," he said.

"We continue to be a part of society and we continue to break the silence and speak."

'It is a part of who we are'

Moving forward, education about Indigenous history should be a tradition on Canada Day, Gould said.

"Educate the Canadian public that our history is shared. We share in this great country, even the good stuff and the bad, but it is a part of who we are," he said.

Elsewhere in P.E.I., the City of Charlottetown said it is not planning to change its Canada Day events.

"Staff have worked hard and sought input from various organizations in an effort to diversify our programming this year," said Coun. Gabe McCabe, chair of the economic development, tourism and event management committee.

Those groups included the Black Cultural Society, the P.E.I. Association for Newcomers, PridePEI, L'nuey and Carrefour de l'Isle-Saint-Jean, said Mccabe.

Councillors at the town of Three Rivers will discuss their Canada Day plans at their next meeting on Monday.

Rob Philpott, chief administrative officer for Summerside, said the city is consulting with the Indigenous community to make plans.

Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools, and those who are triggered by these 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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