Reconciliation with Indigenous people to underscore Canada 150 celebrations, says federal minister

Celebrations to mark the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation were launched at a sunrise ceremony in St. John's Wednesday.

Politicians kick off Canada 150 celebrations with a winter solstice sunrise ceremony in St. John's

A Winter solstice ceremony was held outside Government House in St. John's Dec.21. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

Celebrations to mark the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation were launched at a sunrise ceremony in St. John's, marking the first day of the winter solstice.

Federal and provincial politicians gathered Wednesday morning on the lawn at Government House for the event..

Organizers said reconciliation with Indigenous people will be the underlying theme of the year-long Canada 150 celebrations.

Federal Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett was in St. John's on Dec. 21st. (Mark Quinn/ CBC)

"You can only do this in a relationship, and my new friends, who are First Nations, Inuit and Métis, have changed my understanding of what it means to be Canadian," said Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, Carolyn Bennett.

Some Indigenous leaders say reconciliation is clearly not a done deal yet.

Nunatukavut, formerly known as Labrador ​M é tis, are still struggling to gain recognition- Amelia Reimer

"Nunatukavut, formerly known as Labrador Métis, are still strugging to gain recognition as Inuit people," said Amelia Reimer, a cultural support worker at the St. John's Native Friendsip Centre.

"When that recognition becomes official Nunatukavut will be known as the southern-most Inuit in the world,"

Amelia Reimer, of the St. John's Native Friendship Centre, says Nunatukavut members are still looking to be recognized as Inuit. (Mark Quinn/ CBC)

No firm commitment on residential school apology

For many members of the Newfoundland and Labrador residential school class action, that was recently settled out of court, getting an apology from the federal government is more important than financial compensation.

The federal minister recognized the importance of that apology but stopped short of saying it will happen.

"That's why on so many of these cases we are trying to get out of court. Courts can only really give money. They can't give land. They can't give language and culture," said Bennett.

"They can't give apologies and that's why when we sit down with the parties and decide what is fair in going forward that we hear from the parties what they need."

Bennett said Wednesday's solstice event was intentionally tied to the Indigenous calendar to highlight the importance of reconciliation as Canada celebrates the 150th anniversary of Confederation over the next year.

Celebrations will end in the high Arctic on Dec. 21, 2017.