'Monumental': Lac La Ronge band member applauds step-back from Canada Day celebrations

The decision to withdraw from Canada Day celebrations isn't simply a cancellation of the event, Chris Halkett says. Its aim is to reflect on the darkest aspects of Canadian history and build partnerships toward a renewed Canada.

Chris Halkett wants National Indigenous People's Day on June 21 to be as important

Chris Halkett, a member of the Lac La Ronge Indian Band, calls her community's decision to refrain from its usual Canada Day Celebrations an act of solidarity and reconciliation. (Supplied by Chris Halkett )

A mother and member of the Lac La Ronge Indian Band says the Tri-Communities' decision to refrain from its usual Canada Day celebrations in an act of solitary and reconciliation is "monumental" for her, and her community.

Chris Halkett, who has lived in the community for much of her life, says Canada Day celebrations used to resonate with her as a child, but as she grew up and learned about Canada's living and violent colonial roots, she says the event took on a different meaning. 

"Canada was built on oppression and genocide," she said. "And it really opened my eyes as to what my people have gone through, so this move is monumental." 

Officials in the Tri-Community say while many headlines have read that the community has cancelled Canada Day, the move is much deeper than that, as its aim is to reflect on Canada's history, where it's done wrong, and build partnerships toward a renewed Canada. 

As part of the effort, the communities will be celebrating National Indigenous People's Day on June 21, a day-long event  starting with a pipe ceremony and smudge walk and parade that will work its way through the community. 

"It's so powerful that the community is coming together in recognition of this and it's really important," she said, noting she also plans to use the event as a teaching opportunity for her children.

"It's giving them some awareness as to why this is happening and educating them on the importance of it," she said. "Kids are so resilient and they are so willing to understand and they are so open minded, that it doesn't bother them to have a celebration on June 21, rather than July 1. They are for it. They are excited." 

For her, she says she doesn't want to forget Canada day completely moving forward, but wants National Indigenous Peoples Day to be recognized as an event that's just as important.

"We are a nation. This nation was built on treaties and we should have a relationship together and we should be partners together and decisions should not be made unilaterally," she said. "Moving forward, we should look at this as a way to reconnect and understand why this movement is happening." 

Jordan McPhail, La Ronge's deputy mayor, says the community's decision to refrain from holding its usual fireworks and parade for Canada Day goes deeper than simply cancelling Canada Day. (Supplied by Jordan McPhail)

Jordan McPhail, La Ronge's deputy mayor and the person who brought the motion forward earlier this week, says although the community is not having a parade or fireworks, he feels "this is a very different way of celebrating Canada."

"That we're willing to not beat our chests and be humble and listen to our neighbours that are hurting right now, and try to build and forge new pathways on what truth and reconciliation means and how we can best deliver that in our region," he said, "to me, that's worth celebrating as well." 

The event will also have a specific focus on Woodland Cree culture, with moose-calling and trapper activities, hunting-and-gathering displays and traditional storytelling. 

McPhail says he thinks it's important that these activities take place in La Ronge — the urban reserve was once the site of a residential school — because they draw on the centuries of knowledge that survived despite Canada's oppressive systems. 

"To see that we have a place like our Tri-Community, where we don't just acknowledge our Indigenous cultures and ways of life but we truly honour them and celebrate them," he said. 

On Friday night, the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations voiced its support for the decision made by the Tri-Communities as a way to mourn the tragic discovery of unmarked burial sites at a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.

"We are supporting all First Nations across our Treaty territories in this decision," FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron said in a news release. "Celebrating Canada Day is being seen as inconsiderate to all the children's lives that were lost, and we encourage everyone to consider the price these children had to pay at the hands of the Canadian Government and Church,"

Halkett says she understands how those living outside Indigenous communities might be feeling frustrated by the decision, while pointing out that Indigenous voices have been silenced and forgotten for centuries. 

"For our settler brothers and sisters to be frustrated and angry by this, I hear you," Halkett said. "But now it's time to listen."