We knew that Canada 150 would be a difficult time for many Indigenous people who rightfully point out that the last 150 years have been characterized by colonization and racism.
On July 1st, we were heartened to have almost 300 people – both Indigenous and non-Indigenous – gather at Wells Hill Park for a Sunrise Ceremony to mark the beginning of the next 150 years on the shared journey of reconciliation. Steve Teekens led us in a beautiful ceremony explaining the smudge, the water, and the ‘first fruits’ – strawberries. In closing, he asked us all to share a word or two about our feelings that morning. The words were almost therapeutic; peace, unity, community, reconciliation.
Shortly afterwards, we joined even more neighbours on the grounds of Spadina Museum 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. There was great music, food and spirit.
Because of my role as Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, our event was the focus of an #UnsettleCanada150 protest. We welcomed them into our gathering and respectfully heard their concerns. We also heard from the Innu Chiefs who came from Labrador to raise awareness about the unacceptable situation in their communities with respect to the child welfare system in which their children are being removed far away to non-indigenous families. The citizens of Toronto-St. Paul’s were gracious and understanding.
Later that day, I went to the fireworks party at June Rowlands Park with Josh Matlow, where University of Toronto Indigenous law professor Douglas Sanderson gave me a button that said “Canada 30,150”! I love it!
I am pleased to report that the following day I was able to meet with some of the #Unsettle activists at Allan Gardens, where every Sunday for almost two years they have organized a Food and Clothing Share (www.facebook.com/AllanGardensShare) for the homeless, many of them indigenous. I brought food and some of the items listed on their Facebook page – knapsacks, band-aids, toothbrushes and toothpaste. I was inspired to meet Jaswinder Singh Khosa and his family, who come out every week to serve curry off the back of their truck. I was thrilled to see an amazing group of Rwandans who arrived in their Canada 150 t-shirts to clean up the park. But, most importantly, I was able to spend a few hours listening and learning about how we can all work together on healing and true reconciliation.
I am also pleased to report that Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball has announced an inquiry into the policies regarding the Innu children. We will continue to help in any way we can.
I believe that we have made a good beginning into the next 150 years. 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.
*Published in the August issue of Streeter Newspaper (formally the Town Crier).