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Update: Science North cancels Canada Day event to stand 'alongside Indigenous peoples'

With the recent discoveries of unmarked graves at the sites of former residential schools, there is a heated debate occurring in Canada about how to (and whether to) recognize July 1 

Updated June 29 at 1:23 p.m.:

Science North has announced that they will be cancelling their planned July 1 Canada Day event. 

The cancellation comes as many are calling for the end to celebrations after the discoveries of children’s remains at residential schools across the country. Many indigenous leaders are calling for a boycott of events, groups like Idle No More asking to cancel Canada Day all together. 

In a June 29 release, Science North stated that after consultation with it’s Canada Day partners Sudbury Multicultural and Folk Arts Association as well as Northern Lights Festival Boréal and City of Greater Sudbury, they have “made the decision to stand alongside Indigenous peoples in Canada, specifically the victims and survivors of the residential school system, by choosing not to host a Canada Day event this year.

The event would have featured Indigenous performers as well as musical performances, multicultural entertainment, science demonstrations and more.  

Science North representatives said that in light of its role as a centre of learning, they believe in the “vital importance of education” and that they value  “our relationships with Indigenous peoples.” 

The release states, “All Canadians have a responsibility to express care and understanding for survivors, and to learn about the history, legacy and intergenerational trauma of residential schools. We will spend our time on July 1 reflecting on the history of Indigenous peoples, our country, and the impacts of that history on the path forward for our country.”

Original Story: Though discussion around the celebration of Canada Day is not new to 2021, it has taken on a more urgent and emotional tone this year for one reason: residential schools.

It is the remains of children that seems to have shocked most of non-Indigenous Canada into a realization that perhaps there should be more education about Indigenous history, but also more reflection on that history as part of Canada Day celebrations. 

Within weeks of the news of 215 children found at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia and a confirmed 78 but possible 104 at the Brandon Indian Residential School in Manitoba, there was the June 25 announcement of the discovery of as many as 751 unmarked graves near the former site of Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan, on the lands of Cowessess First Nation.

The news has resulted in calls to cancel Canada Day celebrations altogether this year. The hashtag and slogan #CancelCanadaDay has gained traction and there are solidarity rallies planned in Ontario, British Columbia, Alberta and Manitoba. 

In Sudbury, Science North’s virtual Canada Day celebration is still going ahead, in partnership with the Sudbury Multicultural and Folk Arts Association as well as Northern Lights Festival Boréal. With funding from the federal government and the City of Greater Sudbury, the event will feature musical performances, multicultural entertainment, science demonstrations and more. 

The 2.5-hour event begins at 10 a.m. on July 1.

Among the performers for the Canada Day event is Sudbury’s Bryden Gwiss Kiwenzie, a JUNO and Indigenous Music Awards nominee whose music melds the modern and the traditional.

He could have opted to back out of his performance. Instead, he said, he is choosing to use his platform to educate.

Kiwenzie, a dancer and musician, is of Ojibway, Odawa, Potawatomi, Delaware, Mikmaq and Oneida descent, originally from Neyaashiinigaming (Cape Croker, Ont.) and Sipekne' katik (Indian Brook, NS) with ties to Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory. 

He will be participating in the annual Canada Day event at Science North and while he agreed to the virtual performance before the calls to cancel Canada Day events came in earnest, he is still glad for the opportunity to share his culture and educate people on the trauma many local Indigenous people have lived with.

He filmed his performance for the event last week. Kiwenzie will open the virtual Canada Day event with prayers and “with good words,” saying he feels the performance is a chance for him to educate everyone who would like to listen.

Kiwenzie began his career performing in round dances at powwows and now uses his love of the drum beat to create modern music that offers the lessons of old. As part of his July 1 performance, he presents his original song ‘The Forgotten Truth’.

“I just tell my story, my experience growing up in these areas, the traumas in my life happened throughout,” said Kiwenzie.

But more than a performance of the song, Kiwenzie transformed the performance into something poignant and educational, including clips of elders and experts speaking about residential schools and the Sixties Scoop, among other topics, as part of the performance. “Stuff that is not being taught in schools, divided into the song.”

Kiwenzie said it’s not surprising to him that the conversation is ongoing. 

“This was hidden away, and this was hidden away for a reason,” said Kiwenzie. “But we (Indigenous people) already knew about this, but we weren’t believed. Now is the time to learn.”

While Kiwenzie was raised proudly in his culture, he was bullied for his long hair and questioned his role in Canada in some ways. Now as a father of three, he has to explain this to his children as well. Though his youngest child is not able to understand, Kiwenzie and his oldest son, 11, have discussed the current news regarding residential schools.

“We just said, ‘there was a place where the government took the small children from the parents, to come to these schools and they forced them to cut their hair. And they did a lot of bad things.” Kiwenzie said he had to keep it age appropriate, but wanted his son to know, ‘That's why we have a loss of language and culture.”

He is performing on Canada Day to educate all, and in many ways, to protect his children from what he went through. To help all of Canada learn the lessons needed to ensure history doesn’t repeat itself. 

The City of Greater Sudbury, one of the sponsors of the virtual Canada Day event at Science North, said given recent developments, they and their partners have given careful consideration to the event so that “it can address truth, reconciliation and awareness of Indigenous peoples and culture.”

The Canada Day event continues to focus on celebrating diversity, multiculturalism and inclusion more so than celebrating the formation of Canada, said City spokesperson Kelly Brooks. 

“Science North has been taking part in many conversations with Indigenous groups and individuals in the community, and is proceeding with carefully implementing Indigenous awareness, education and content into the virtual event. Science North organizers have reached out to assure the city that the individuals who are participating are doing so from a place of wanting to provide healing and educational awareness for their communities, culture and ways of being.”

However, many communities are choosing to cancel the event, as per the wishes of the Indigenous communities in their area. 

The debate is heated within non-Indigenous Canada. There are those who wish to celebrate a tradition as they always have, especially after a year of pandemic-imposed isolation. Then there are those who are trying to rectify, to make up for abuse they feel Canada not only instigated but ignored, and for many years after.

In the words of Idle No More, a nationwide group of Indigenous rights activists, there is “no pride in genocide”. They represent the feelings of many Indigenous people, that Canada Day, to them, is a celebration of colonialism. A statement from the group said they will instead honour those lives lost to the Canadian state. 

“Indigenous lives, Black Lives, Migrant lives, Women and Trans and 2Spirit lives – all of the relatives that we have lost,” reads the statement. “We will use our voices for MMIWG2S, Child Welfare, Birth Alerts, Forced Sterilization, Police/RCMP brutality and all of the injustices we face.  We will honour our connections to each other and to the Water, Land, and Sky.”

They call on “Indigenous land, water and sky protectors and allies” to come together to disrupt the celebration.

“We refuse to sit idle while Canada’s violent history is celebrated.”

On July 1 in Memorial Park will be an event called “Coming Together In solidarity w/ Idle No More's call to #CancelCanadaDay”, hosted by Myths and Mirrors Community Arts and beginning at 1 p.m. They are calling on the community to join “in solidarity with Idle No More's call to #CancelCanadaDay and the growing number of actions taking place across Turtle Island.”

Patsy Corbiere, the Chief of Aundeck Omni Kaning First Nation (near Little Current) and Tribal Chair of the United Chiefs and Council of Mnidoo Mnising (UCCMM) has a similar message. She released a statement on behalf of UCCMM on June 17. 

“We, the Anishinaabe of Mnidoo Mnising, ask that Canadians use Canada Day to educate themselves about the residential school system and its impacts.”

She encourages Canadians to read the report from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and to consider ways to implement the commission’s calls to action.  

She also asks that rather than “celebrate” Canada Day, non-Indigenous people “educate themselves on the true history of Canada and to support us in our mourning by wearing an orange shirt to commemorate the lives of all our children.”

Corbiere also asks that “you all stand together with us in holding the Government responsible and addressing the historical injustice.”



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Jenny Lamothe

About the Author: Jenny Lamothe

Jenny Lamothe is a reporter with Sudbury.com. She covers the diverse communities of Sudbury, especially the vulnerable or marginalized.
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