On Saturday, July 1st, we once again hosted our Canada Day Picnic in Toronto-St. Paul’s – one of my favourite annual traditions, as all members of our community have an opportunity to come together and celebrate!
For the past 20 years, our Canada Day events have respectfully begun with a land acknowledgment and Indigenous ceremony – honouring the traditional territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit, Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation, the ancestral home of the Huron-Wendat – the Haudenosaunee and all Indigenous peoples who have walked this land.
However, we knew that this year – Canada 150 – would be a particularly difficult occasion for a great many Indigenous people, who rightfully point out that the last 150 years have been characterized by colonization and racism.
We were heartened to have almost 300 people – both Indigenous and non-Indigenous – gather at Wells Hill Park for a traditional Sunrise Ceremony to mark the beginning of the next 150 years on the shared journey of reconciliation. I was thrilled that so many people were able to come out at 5:15 AM to participate! The ceremony was led by Steve Teekens, an Anishnabee Traditional Teacher who works with Indigenous communities right here in Toronto-St. Paul’s. Many of those in attendance came to learn more about the cultures and customs of the First Peoples, and Steve was great at weaving-in information about the history and meaning behind these customs throughout the ceremony. For non-Indigenous Canadians, learning about Indigenous history and culture is an essential step in the ongoing process of reconciliation. It is up to us to learn now what we did not learn in schools. Thank you so much to Steve for his outstanding leadership, and to all the early-risers who attended!
In the afternoon, we joined even more neighbours on the grounds of beautiful Spadina House for our annual Canada Day picnic. Elder Frances Sanderson opened with a land acknowledgement and prayer, and Ojibway opera singer Joanna Burt led us in O Canada and then Strong Woman Song. Over 1500 people visited us throughout the day, and there was plenty of great music, and food and spirit!
Because of my role as Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, our event was the focus of the #UnsettleCanada150 protest. We welcomed everyone into our gathering and respectfully heard their concerns. The citizens of St. Paul’s were gracious and understanding, and I look forward to further dialogue – listening and learning about how we can all work together on healing and true reconciliation.
Thank you to Karen Edwards and the entire staff at Spadina House for hosting an incredible event for our community! Thank you to Joanna Burt and Stephen San Juan and his band for their beautiful performances. Thank you also to Elder Frances Sanderson for leading the opening prayer and land acknowledgment, as well as for offering her wise counsel and participating in the important dialogues that took place that day. Finally, thank you to the kind and hard-working volunteers who gave up their Canada Day to make these events possible for everyone!
As we mark 150 years since Confederation, it is important for us to remember and reflect all aspects of our collective history. It is up to all of us to ensure the mistakes of the past 150 years do not continue for the next 150 years, and I believe that we have made a good beginning. As Gord Downie said: “We have 150 years behind us that we need to learn from and we’ve got 150 years ahead, and we’d better just get to work.” The work has begun.