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Manitoulin Island First Nations leaders ask people not to celebrate Canada Day

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When July 1 comes around, Patsy Corbiere will not be doing anything to celebrate. And she hopes her neighbours on Manitoulin Island and Canadians at large will follow suit.

Corbiere is the Chief of Aundeck Omni Kaning First Nation, and Tribal Chair of the United Chiefs and Council of Mnidoo Mnising (UCCMM). 

UCCMM is asking people not to celebrate Canada Day this year. Instead, the group is asking people to use the day to educate themselves about the history of residential schools and the continued impacts. 

“We don’t want to scare people, you know, not to celebrate Canada Day,” Corbiere said. 

“But what they need to do is start looking and reading the Truth and Reconciliation [Comission] report … to let people educate themselves and how we’re going to fix these problems.”

The UCCMM put out its statement about Canada Day celebrations in light of news last month that the remains of about 215 children were detected at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, BC. 

‘What are you celebrating?’

Following the news out of Kamloops, and the difficult conversations it sparked across the country, some communities have been grappling with how to mark Canada Day this year, if at all.

Earlier this month, city council in Victoria voted unanimously to cancel the city’s planned Canada Day programing. Last week, Wilmot, a community near Kitchener, Ont., did the same. 

Patsy Corbiere is the Tribal Chair of the United Chiefs and Council of Mnidoo Mnising. (Submitted by Patsy Corbiere)

As people across the country digest the news, learn more about residential schools, and revisit trauma, Corbiere said it simply isn’t the time to be having the usual Canada Day celebrations. 

“Well you look at Canada Day, and what comes under Canada Day? The government, right. So, when you look at that, what are you celebrating?” Corbiere said.  

“Canada, you’re supposed to be a nation of love and caring and kindness. But you’ve got in the back burner what you’ve done to First Nation people.”

Local Canada Day plans

Some communities on Manitoulin Island still plan to go ahead with small, COVID-friendly Canada Day celebrations. 

“The things that were done in the past that were wrong should be investigated and resolved. But that doesn’t mean as a country we have to abandon the celebrations that we hold for a country we all love,” said Al MacNevin, the Mayor of North Eastern Manitoulin and the Islands, adding that the municipality has not been asked directly to cancel any of its plans. 

Elsewhere in the Northeast, the City of Greater Sudbury typically sponsors the Canada Day event hosted by Science North and other organizations. A spokesperson said the city has no information to share at this time about those plans.

Meanwhile in North Bay, Mayor Al McDonald said the city is “sensitive to what’s happening across the country,” but at this time, plans are in place for virtual celebrations to mark the occasion. McDonald said the city hasn’t received any requests directly about cancelling plans. 

Confronting history

While organized events may be going ahead, Corbiere said the response to UCCMM’s request has been very positive, from individuals, groups and businesses both on and off Manitoulin Island. 

Rev. Whitney Bruno said she fully supports what the group is calling for. 

It opened up all kinds of wounds here in the community.— Rev. Whitney Bruno

Bruno is the pastor of Little Current United Church and Sheguiandah United Church. She began in that position in April of this year, after moving to Canada from the U.S. 

“I was aware that this area that I was moving into has many first nations and I would have a lot of learning. I did not realize how quickly that would be on my plate,” Bruno said. 

Bruno was in the middle of reading a book about the Indian Act when the Kamploops discovery became news. 

“It was overwhelming to see what was in a textbook lived out again. And it opened up all kinds of wounds here in the community,” Bruno said. 

Rev. Whitney Bruno is the pastor of Little Current United Church and Sheguiandah United Church. (Submitted by Whitney Bruno)

Bruno said she knows the legacy of residential schools hits close to home on Manitoulin Island. In recent weeks she’s had many conversations with people trying to come to terms with the news — from those who lost relatives who attended residential schools, to others far removed from those experiences who were “blind sighted” by the news.

Bruno is glad those conversations are happening, and she’s encouraging people to take time on Canada Day to learn from that history. But she hopes learning and conversations don’t end there. 

“I hope that in July and in August, we’re still demanding that the Truth and Reconciliation [Commission]’s paper is acted on,” Bruno said.  

“This can’t be old news next month.”

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