Vancouver Island First Nations and others gather on the lawn of the legislature to honour the 215 children who never came home from a Kamloops residential school. The timing of the discovery will affect Victoria’s marking of July 1 as Canada Day this year. (Jake Romphf/News Staff)

Vancouver Island First Nations and others gather on the lawn of the legislature to honour the 215 children who never came home from a Kamloops residential school. The timing of the discovery will affect Victoria’s marking of July 1 as Canada Day this year. (Jake Romphf/News Staff)

Victoria cancels Canada Day events out of respect for First Nations

Reconciliation-based hour-long TV presentation to air later this summer, rather than July 1

The absence of First Nations participation during a time of grieving, combined with a lack of available time to refocus a planned Canada Day celebration broadcast, has prompted a shift in the City of Victoria’s marking of the nation’s 154th birthday.

A late motion brought forward Thursday by Mayor Lisa Helps and Coun. Marianne Alto to council’s committee-of-the-whole meeting asked for the Canada Day plans in the works to be put on hold, to give the city time to consult with the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations on using the planned hour-long broadcast July 1 as a reconciliation-focused educational opportunity.

Committee members agreed and as a result, the city will not stage any of the typical events on Canada Day this year.

“The more we reflect, the more we understand that holding the usual Canada Day celebrations could be damaging to the city’s and the community’s reconciliation efforts,” Helps and Alto wrote in the motion.

The city had already begun planning for an hour-long, multifaceted TV production similar to last year, given the inability to stage the typical heavily attended Canada Day events in the Inner Harbour under ongoing COVID-19 gathering restrictions.

But the Songhees and Esquimalt’s presence in the project was unlikely, given the continued mourning of the 215 Indigenous children whose remains were found in Kamloops – strong evidence of which came during the June 8 ceremony at the legislature and through informal feedback Helps received there.

RELATED STORY: Island First Nations canoe, drum, sing in Victoria to honour 215 residential school children

Explaining the rationale for the motion during the meeting, Helps said, “one thing we can do is small acts of reconciliation. We can rethink what we do with our own resources and our own protocols for Canada Day. We don’t have the power to cancel Canada Day, but we do have the ability to readjust our programming to reflect the difficult times.”

Helps said she heard from local Indigenous leaders Tuesday that doing nothing would also feel odd, thus the move to hear from councillors on the matter.

The discussion touched on a range of aspects, from respect for the nations and the potential use of archived reconciliation-related footage, to the effect of changing the program on the musicians and other artists due to be booked.

In the end, committee members voted unanimously in favour of an amended motion by Coun. Ben Isitt that would still allow an educational video to be produced, but extend the deadline for airing it to Sept. 6. Such an extension would not only allow time for the city to consult with local First Nations leaders on content and give the production team time to switch gears, it keeps to the conditions on the $40,000 in Heritage Canada funding the city received for July 1 events.

A meeting of the City Family, a reconciliation advisory body that includes representatives from the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations, city staff and council members, is scheduled for June 16 and the topic will be brought up then.

The committee recommendation was moved to the afternoon council meeting for approval.

ALSO READ: Time to account for all child deaths at Canada’s residential schools: Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc


 

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