As Canada Day celebrations are being replaced with commemorative ceremonies across the territory and the country, Indigenous leaders are calling on Canadians to reflect on the nation’s 154 year history.
With recent discoveries of unmarked graves at former residential school sites, this year July 1 is taking a different tone.
Acknowledging the time it will take for Indigenous people to heal, Norman Yakeleya, Dene National Chief, proposes the day be renamed to Family Day to refocus celebrations on restoring that which was broken by decades of residential schools, the 60s scoop and efforts to separate families to “take the Indian out of the child.”
“We want to reconcile with our own families and bring our people and our families back together again,” Yakeleya said.
“We have been dealt not-a-good hand in this life, by Canada and we cannot celebrate that.”
To walk the path of reconciliation, Yakeleya called on his own people to welcome change as well.
“If things are to change, we as Dene need to change. And that means we have to do it together as a family and put our family back together again.”
“We’ve got to stop blaming the government and take responsibility for our life,” he said, noting that forgiveness would not be an easy process since “we have every justifiable means to rationalize to blame and to point fingers.”
“If we want a good life, then we need to look at the things that would bring good into life,” Yakeleya said.
He listed schooling, time on the land, “learning to talk about some of the deeper hurt”, and “being in a family where sobriety is the number one priority,” as ways of moving towards healing.
While Yellowknife had originally planned to celebrate the country’s anniversary with a parade, the City will now host a march up Franklin Avenue in recognition and honour of the children that died in residential schools. The march begins at 3 p.m. by the tennis courts across from the CBC building and will end at Somba K’e Park where residents can participate in a feeding the fire ceremony and listen to speeches and drumming in commemoration of residential school victims.
“Canada is now being looked at under a microscope as to the true history of how it treated its treaty nation partners by the policies, by the attitudes and by the systemic racism that flows through their departments,” Yakeleya said.
“The Aboriginals have always stated that this country is great,” he said, but that “when we (the Indigenous people) wanted to share, it didn’t mean that we wanted to be subject to racist policies.
Canada Day should be really changed back to Family Day because families were displaced, they were dispersed to residential schools, the 60s scoop, child welfare, the whole family was shattered. Canada cannot celebrate that.”