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‘We’re in a new era’: Reconciliation top of mind this Canada Day in Victoria

One year after tragedy, the city’s reckoning continues

Hanna Hett
July 1, 2022
Latest News
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Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

‘We’re in a new era’: Reconciliation top of mind this Canada Day in Victoria

One year after tragedy, the city’s reckoning continues

Hanna Hett
Jul 1, 2022
Photo: James MacDonald / Capital Daily
Photo: James MacDonald / Capital Daily
Latest News
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

‘We’re in a new era’: Reconciliation top of mind this Canada Day in Victoria

One year after tragedy, the city’s reckoning continues

Hanna Hett
July 1, 2022
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‘We’re in a new era’: Reconciliation top of mind this Canada Day in Victoria
Photo: James MacDonald / Capital Daily

On the morning of July 1, Mayor Lisa Helps and Councillor Sharmarke Dubow will paddle across the Inner Harbour in canoes, guided by Esquimalt and Songhees youth. Before they dock in the southeast corner, nearest to Belleville and Government Streets, they will stand and ask both Songhees Nation Chief Ron Sam and Esquimalt Nation Chief Rob Thomas for  permission to come ashore—a Lekwungen protocol that goes back thousands of years. 

The tradition, performed for the first time on Canada Day, marks a return to Victoria’s July 1st ceremonies, after city councillors voted unanimously to cancel last year’s events. This year, though, one year after the remains of 215 children were found buried at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, things are bound to be different.

“After the events of last summer… we’re in a new era of reconciliation as a country,” Mayor Helps told Capital Daily. “We wanted to [acknowledge] in a way that was not only respectful of Lekwungen people, but also that embedded Lekwungen protocols and culture and ceremony into the day itself.”

“Canada Day, for many Indigenous people, including some members of the Lekwungen, the Songhees and Esquimalt nations, is a day of anger; it's a day of pain; it's a day of grief.”

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Last year’s decision to cancel Canada Day celebrations

Lyla Dick says that dancing and singing in the Lekwungen Traditional Dancers is her “medicine.” It’s a multigenerational group—the eldest is her 82-year-old mother and the youngest is her four-year-old grand-nephew. They have participated in Canada Day events for years. But upon the discovery of residential school graves last year, they decided to pull back.

“We didn’t feel right going and celebrating a day that is known as the colonization of our people,” said Dick, the lead singer of the group alongside her mother and sister.

When Helps and the rest of the city council learned of the group's decision, and also of the pain that many other Esquimalt and Songhees Elders and community members felt, they decided to cancel last year’s proceedings.

“It just seemed like absolutely disrespectful and inappropriate to hold a celebration of Canada on their lands,” Helps said.

It was a time of reckoning within Victoria, and across Canada. Last July 1, protestors toppled a statue of James Cook and tossed it into the Inner Harbour. Statues of Queen Victoria—at the Legislature, in Winnipeg, and in Kitchener, Ont.—were splattered numerous times over the summer with red paint.

Photo: Colin Smith / Capital Daily

In particular, Dick told Capital Daily, celebrating then would have been “too full of flashbacks” for her mother.

But this year the Lekwungen Traditional Dancers will be back. 

At noon, they will kick off the day’s events with a performance, which Dick sees as an important part of reconciliation. She says she wants people to replace the negative stereotypes they might have about Indigenous people with positive perceptions. 

“[Spectators] say they can feel our positive energy,” Dick told Capital Daily.

‘It’s not my day to celebrate’

Ron Rice, the executive director of the Victoria Native Friendship Centre, wishes that the City hadn’t pinned its reasoning for canceling last year’s celebrations on Indigenous people. It widens the gap, he says, between Indigenous people and those who think First Nations initiatives and issues get too much attention.

“I felt there was a bit of blowback from people who were willing to be vocal about, ‘Oh, great. Now, they don't want to celebrate Canada Day.’”

Instead, he thinks the City should have simply said: “‘We’re in the middle of a pandemic, there were 215 unregistered graves that were just identified in a [BC] community. We don’t feel this is a good time for us to celebrate, period.’” 

But he also added that he has no problem with people celebrating Canada Day—as long as there is the acknowledgement of the Nations who were there long before Canada existed.

“I’m fine with it. It’s not my day to celebrate; it’s your day to celebrate,” he told Capital Daily. “You're celebrating something that's important to you; it doesn't happen to be important to me. And it doesn't mean I don't want you to do it.”

What he hopes to see going forward is more effort into celebrating National Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21. This year, while Royal Roads University hosted an event, the City did not.

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Hanna Hett
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