Yellowknife Filipino community balances celebration, grief this Filipino Heritage Month

The Filipino community's celebrations have shifted this year, following the news of thousands of children's remains found at residential schools across the country,

Community members say June was about reflecting on solidarity with Indigenous people

The Yellowknife Filipino community celebrating Filipino Heritage Month in a past year. (Submitted by Lea Barbosa-Leclerc)

Celebrating Filipino Heritage Month has been a balancing act for Yellowknife councillor Rommel Silverio, as he thinks about the more than 1,000 Indigenous children's remains found at former residential schools in Canada.

"We need to find balance where we're celebrating this and sympathizing with what has been discovered," Silverio said.

June was proclaimed Filipino Heritage Month across Canada in 2018. It coincides with Philippine Independence Day on June 12, which commemorates the end of Spanish rule in 1898.

According to Statistics Canada's latest numbers, the Filipino population is the largest visible minority group in Yellowknife, with about 1,065 people.

Rommel Silverio is Yellowknife's first Filipino councillor. (Submitted by Rommel Silverio)

Nara Dapilos is a member at large at the Philippine Cultural Association of Yellowknife. She recognizes the significance of June being both Filipino Heritage Month and Indigenous History Month.

"It's been a good opportunity for … us as a Filipino community to reflect on what independence from colonization really means, what the repercussions have been on our people and what legacy [is left] behind in our current culture today," Dapilos said.

And, in light of the news regarding the residential schools, she questions how the community can use that experience to stand in solidarity with the Indigenous community.

Nara Dapilos is the youth member at large at the Philippine Cultural Association of Yellowknife. (Submitted by Nara Dapilos)

As the president of the Philippine Cultural Association of Yellowknife, Lea Barbosa-Leclerc said she is always mindful while celebrating Filipino Heritage Month because it coincides with National Indigenous Peoples Day and National Indigenous History Month.

This year, she was especially cautious to ensure their celebrations were respectful.

"Respecting our second home is really important," she said. "And respecting the people within that second home, which is Canada, is important.

"We want to acknowledge that when our friends are hurting, we're also hurting."

Residents of Yellowknife dancing the Tinikling, a traditional Philippine folk dance, on Philippine Independence Day this year. (Submitted by Lea-Barbosa Leclerc)

Calling on the Catholic Church

One Filipino Yellowknife resident, Rogine Olayvar, is showing her solidarity with Indigenous people this month by signing an open letter to Filipinos in Canada to support the demands of residential school survivors.

The letter calls on the Roman Catholic Church to "take responsibility for the atrocities it caused in Catholic-run residential schools." It is rooted in several calls to action in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, including one seeking a formal apology for the Roman Catholic Church's role in residential schools.

Approximately 81 per cent of Filipinos are Catholic, according to the Pew Research Center.

"Signing the letter was a form of solidarity and holding the Catholic Church accountable to take responsibility," Olayvar said.

Olayvar, who was born in the Philippines and moved to N.W.T. when she was four, said her birth certificate states that she's Catholic, despite not having been involved with the religion growing up.

"Whether you're Filipino or not, I think we have a part in recognizing our responsibilities to Indigenous people and the land that we live and work on," Olayvar said.

"It's important to help to hold the people accountable to no longer continue to hear those empty promises, you know, that kind of temporarily mitigate the overwhelming backlash that the public have."

Dapilos agrees. "Whether you're first, second, third generation immigrants, it's important that while we celebrate our heritage, we still acknowledge the privileges that we may carry and that we're all still settlers on Indigenous lands," she said.

Raising the flag at home

While Filipino Heritage Month celebrations looked different this year to respect Indigenous communities, they also looked different due to COVID-19 gathering restrictions and a newly implemented bylaw.

In recent years, the Yellowknife Filipino community celebrated this month by watching the Philippines flag fly high at city hall. But a new flag raising policy which no longer allows international flags to be raised outside the building has altered those plans.

Instead, Barbosa-Leclerc encouraged members of the community to raise the Philippines flag at home and at half-mast to honour the children lost in residential schools.

Lea Barbosa-Leclerc, president of the Philippine Cultural Association of Yellowknife, has lived in Canada for over three decades and says it's her second home. (Submitted by Lea Barbosa-Leclerc)

"To me, it is to say that we want to showcase our culture. We want to share our culture with you. And to me, raising the flag … is a sign of friendship," she said.

Silverio was one of the council members who was outspoken against the bylaw.

"When you raise it at city hall, it's a bit different — there's an impact to the community," he said.

He said he loved watching tourists see the Philippines flag and say, "This city's really open. They recognize diversity."

Ultimately, the policy was adopted to avoid foreign policy issues.

This year, the community also celebrated in small ways with a virtual talent show, a car parade around the city, and a cooking showcase of lumpia, Filipino spring rolls.

With Canada Day just around the corner, Barbosa-Leclerc, Silverio, Dapilos and Olayvar all say they won't be celebrating. Instead, they'll be supporting Indigenous people and standing in solidarity by wearing orange shirts.

Support is available for anyone affected by the lingering effects of residential school and those who are triggered by the latest 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.


Karina Zapata

Reporter/Associate Producer

Karina is a reporter/associate producer working with CBC Calgary. She was a recipient of the 2021 Joan Donaldson Scholarship and has previously worked with CBC Toronto and CBC North. You can reach her by email at