End to St. John's Days celebrations gets full support from St. John's Indigenous group
First Voice says the city's decision to discontinue St. John's Days builds on promises
A group serving the Indigenous community in St. John's says it supports the city's decision to discontinue its annual community celebrations this year to focus on marking National Indigenous Peoples Day instead.
On Monday the City of St. John's announced that St. John's Days will not continue. The event was generally held near the end of June and was closely associated with John Cabot's landing in 1497 and the provincial June holiday formerly known as Discovery Day
"Having that step forward at least provides a little bit of space for Indigenous people to actually enter an urban setting with some support," Jordan Lawrence, a community advocate for First Voice Urban Indigenous Coalition, told CBC News.
"That's huge coming from a small town, or a small background, or a reserve or anywhere."
He said the change opens up a "new space" for the rest of the population, and allows different ways of thinking to flourish.
Lawrence is a member of Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation with Mi'kmaq, English and French ancestry. He's a mental health and addictions advocate specializing in rural and regionalization policy development.
The timing of city's announcement was important, he said. National Indigenous Peoples Day and the June holiday both fall on June 21, and the national Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls on all levels of government to repudiate concepts used to justify European sovereignty over Indigenous peoples and lands — such as the doctrine of discovery.
"When local leaders take that action it shows that they've thought about it and it's not just something they've taken lightly," Lawrence said.
"Indigenous people just want to have that recognized, the fact that they were denied their existence on this land and, to an extent, still are."
Justin Campbell, manager of research and advocacy for First Light, the lead partner in First Voice, said the city's decision to discontinue St. John's Days builds on some of the commitments the city has already made, such as the signing of a declaration in September that promised to strengthen relationships and build inclusion between the city and its growing Indigenous community.
"In that document, the city promised that they would work to decolonize the city by making Indigenization and anti-racism priorities. We see them doing it here," he said.
"They also promised that they would recognize and celebrate contributions of Indigenous peoples, that they had made and are making to the city. So we do see that with this decision and that's why we welcome that."
St. John's Mayor Danny Breen told CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show the city and its events need to reflect the multicultural diversity of the community.
He said the decision to cancel St. John's Days was to give National Indigenous Peoples Day full attention, rather than have it compete with city events.
"We want to make this a very inclusive and welcoming community for everyone," Breen said.
In August 2018, city council voted to no longer use the name Discovery Day. In 2020, the government of Newfoundland and Labrador followed suit, saying it would choose a new name in consultation with Indigenous groups.
The city said changing the name of the holiday was an important step in the process of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples in the province, and while St. John's Days is also no more, the city said it's developing an alternative proposal to continue celebrating its diverse communities.
The city still plans to organize several summer events for residents.
With files from The St. John's Morning Show