The discovery of unmarked burial sites of 215 Kamloops residential school students has brought questions about how we mark Canada Day into the spotlight.
In Vernon, B.C., a city councillor is suggesting new requirements focused on Indigenous inclusion for city-funded Canada Day events.
Councillor Kelly Fehr is suggesting, starting in 2022, city-funded events be required to have Indigenous representation on their planning committees, have a land acknowledgment at the beginning of the events, and recognize the impacts of colonization in Canada.
Fehr wants to see events prioritize Indigenous participation.
“Their lands were colonized, they were stolen from them. There has been genocide in our country. There have been all sorts of atrocities and we have an obligation to work with the Indigenous communities to support them and recognize the atrocities that happened through colonization,” Fehr said.
“Canada Day is a very specific symbol of that colonization. What better time to support the Indigenous communities than to use the opportunity?”
The proposal is being welcomed by the chief of the Okanagan Indian Band, who called it “a step in the right direction.”
“I hope it is supported at city council because it does go a long way to actually start building foundations for a better relationship,” Chief Byron Louis said. “I think that part is good.”
Louis is also looking at the bigger picture.
“First, if you are going to have a celebration, we should actually have something to celebrate about. We have a long way to go in terms of reconciliation with Canada to achieve that.”
For its part, the volunteer group that puts on the event said it typically does include land acknowledgments and invites the Okanagan Indian Band to participate in Canada Day events.
David Frost, the president of the North Okanagan Canada Day Society indicated the group would be open to implementing all of Fehr’s proposals.
“Although we’re passionate about celebrating Canada, all we are trying to achieve is putting on an event for the community so that they can enjoy,” said Frost.
“We are obviously all deeply saddened by the recent findings in Kamloops. it’s a tragic event.”
Frost said this year’s event will be muted out of respect and due to COVID-19.
City council is expected to discuss the Canada Day proposal at an upcoming meeting.