Nfld. & Labrador

Province promises to ditch Discovery Day, consult with Indigenous groups on new name

The provincial government will continue to observe a holiday on June 24, but it won't be called Discovery Day.

MUN also does away with 'colonial' title in favour of 'June Day'

The provincial government has decided to ditch Discovery Day, and will seek out a new name for the June holiday. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

The provincial government is moving away from Discovery Day, and will be calling it the "June Holiday" until a new name can be chosen.

Premier Dwight Ball issued a statement Thursday afternoon, promising consultation with the province's Indigenous groups before choosing a new name for the June 24 holiday.

"The voices of people here locally and around the world are being heard," Ball wrote. "We have to ensure our communities reflect the people that live in them."

Critics of the holiday have pointed out that John Cabot didn't "discover" Newfoundland and Labrador when he landed on its shores in 1497. Instead, his arrival played a role in centuries of conflict between European visitors and Indigenous people.

"He hasn't discovered anything and we've always known and always said that," said Chief Mi'sel Joe of the Miawpukek First Nation in Conne River.

Mi'sel Joe, chief of the Miawpukek First Nation, says he wasn't surprised by the name change but was happy to see it happen. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

Ball called Joe on Thursday just before sending the news release to let him know in advance.

Joe said he wasn't surprised, but welcomed the name change. Their conversation turned to other things, such as updating the province's coat of arms — which features two Beothuk referred to as "savages" in the official description from 1637 — and names of some historical landmarks.

Discovery Day had been a statutory holiday from 1962 until 1992, when it was removed from the Shops Closing Act.

In 1997, a full public holiday was declared to mark the 500th anniversary of Cabot's voyage. 

The provincial NDP, which raised the issue in the House of Assembly on Monday, also welcomed the change.

"We called for this change, and are pleased to support this temporary name until appropriate and meaningful consultation is done with Indigenous leaders and groups in Newfoundland and Labrador," said NDP Leader Alison Coffin.

MUN also ditches name

Before the provincial government made its announcement, Memorial University had already decided to change the name.

Saying the original name failed to recognize historical realities and Indigenous people, Memorial University has renamed the June 24 holiday, changing it from Discovery Day to June Day.

It's the latest move from the university to address Indigenous issues, with the university's vice-presidents council approving the change on June 9 and notifying the public Wednesday.

"It's really about recognizing the history of that name, and the colonial ideologies around it, the erasure of Indigenous peoples when you think about the name Discovery Day," said Catharyn Andersen, the special advisor on Indigenous affairs to the university's president.

"I'm very pleased that the university has decided to change the name of the holiday, and I'm hopeful that the province will recognize that as well."

MUN is not the first to question the name.

In 2018, St. John's city council voted to change the holiday's name in its municipal paperwork, referring to the holiday as St. John's Day instead.

Indigenizing MUN

Memorial University's name change comes on the heels of its release of an extensive document, drafted over the course of two years: the Strategic Framework for Indigenization 2020-2025.

It lays out the path for increasing Indigenous content, not just in program curriculums but the very fabric of the school. Andersen was part of the team that developed the draft, now open for feedback from Indigenous communities as well as people within the university.

"I think it's an important step," she told CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show.

"Memorial's been doing a lot with Indigenous communities over the years, and supporting Indigenous students, but we need to take that a step further. And we need to develop those relationships and integrate Indigenous ways of knowing and being and doing into the academy."

To get to the draft stage, Andersen and her team spent a year travelling to 26 Indigenous communities in the province, and said common themes emerged form the consultations. There needed to be better ties between the two sides, and that everyone working throughout the university should have a better knowledge of Indigenous peoples.

"We knew this process would take time and we didn't want to rush it. We wanted to make sure that we were engaging in the right way, and respectfully," she said.

Catharyn Andersen says enacting the steps outlined in the draft will take time, and there will be challenges along the way. (Heather Barrett/CBC)

More hires, Labrador campus

Indigenization spans a variety of areas, including hiring more Indigenous faculty and staff, and supporting their non-Indigenous counterparts to increase Indigenous content throughout the institution.

The draft also prioritizes the creation of a Labrador campus of the university, with Indigenous communities in the Big Land looking for post-secondary offerings focused on Innu, Inuit and other ways of knowing and doing. Andersen said upgrading the Labrador Institute into a full campus, in order to achieve those goals, is a priority.

"We're going through those steps, which is, I think, critical. And that will be a critical piece, for access to post-secondary education," she said.

The Labrador Institute is a research centre located within the College of the North Atlantic in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, but is not a full university campus of its own. (Alyson Samson/CBC)

While some of these areas identified in the draft are already being worked on, Andersen said the majority of the efforts will take time to enact.

"I do anticipate challenges. This is not something that's going to happen overnight, it's going to require resources, it's going to require the effort from a lot of different people and units within the university," she said.

Grenfell Campus released its strategic plan in April to plot the way forward to 2025. The Corner Brook campus wants to increase its Indigenous enrolment to 10 per cent by then, and add an Indigenous studies requirement to undergraduate programs.

Memorial's draft document is available on its website, and is open to feedback until July 24.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrado

With files from The St. John's Morning Show

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