Editor’s note: The contents of this article may be triggering.
Canada Day in 2021 left Canadians at a difficult crossroads as to how to handle the country’s 154th anniversary.
Amid the discovery of a growing number of unmarked graves of Indigenous children at former residential school sites across the country, many communities decided celebrating Canada Day traditionally was not the respectful response. Others took a more reflective, inclusive approach to July 1 activities.
Agassiz-Harrison took both routes.
On June 29, District of Kent councillors voted unanimously to cancel Canada Day activities for the year.
“As collective citizens, we are going to stand with our Indigenous community members out of respect for their traditions and culture. Council unanimously elected to honour Seabird Island Band’s request to not celebrate during a time of grieving,” said a statement from district Mayor Sylvia Pranger. “As we work towards reconciliation, it is important to acknowledge our shared history and validate the discovered truths of what our country is built on.”
The district collaborated with Seabird Island to release a video message from Pranger and Seabird Island Coun. Alexis Grace.
“Many of our current leaders are direct survivors, and we are all children of survivors of this residential school trauma,” Grace said. “The silence from a number of our people during this time is symbolic of the thunderous anguish that blankets our communities.”
Grace said the chief and council seek to honour survivors in “every step we take as leadership.”
“Canada Day in a town we collectively share and love is difficult at present,” she said. “As First Nations people, our teachings tell us to postpone celebration during our times of grief, particularly as our people struggle with this strong and painful feelings rooted in direct account, knowing that Canada, British Columbia, Agassiz and Kent are not the places we’ve grown to believe, built upon the genocide, blood, tears, forced labour, torment, torture and pain of our people, our families, our ancestors.”
Grace said by staying celebrations during the time of grief, the District of Kent reflected unity and respect for neighbouring First Nations.
Pranger’s address following Grace’s, taking up the final three minutes of the nine-and-a-half-minute video.
“We, as a nation, need to seek forgiveness and challenge ourselves to make sure agony like this never burdens families and Canadian communities again,” Pranger said. “On this Canada Day, we need to reflect on the importance of inclusion and embrace diversity and seek equality across our nation.”
In the village of Harrison Hot Springs, the Sts’ailes First Nation and local officials collaborate each year not only during Canada Day but Sasquatch Days as well.
According to community services manager Rhonda Schell, Mayor Leo Facio reached out to Sts’ailes Chief Ralph Leon, Jr. to determine the community’s wishes on canceling Canada Day. Sts’ailes council was in full support of the village delivering the virtual content as planned.
Facio encouraged locals to visit the Tourism Harrison River Valley website to hear the words of Leon and Willie Charlie, who share some of the Sts’ailes oral history of Harrison Lake and the surrounding area.
“We continue to work towards reconciliation and seek out opportunities to do so that are in line with the wishes of our Indigenous neighbours and meant no disrespect to those who are grieving,” he added.