Canada Day message disappoints


A Canada Day message from an area MP has opened a window of communication for local Indigenous leaders.

Ogichidaa Francis Kavanaugh and Grand Council Treaty #3 were disappointed by a number of radio ads by Kenora MP Eric Melillo, which encouraged the celebration of Canada Day. In light of the ads, Ogichidaa Kavanaugh plans to reach out to MP Melillo, “to discuss the effects the Residential School system has had on the Kenora region,” stated a release from Grand Council Treaty #3.

The ads contrasted calls from Indigenous groups to cancel Canada Day, out of respect for residential school victims and the thousands of children who died at the facilities.

“I was disappointed to hear Kenora MP Eric Melillo’s consistent radio messages promoting and encouraging people to celebrate Canada Day,” added Ogichidaa Kavanaugh. “As his constituency had one of the highest concentrations of residential schools in Canada, I would have hoped he would be more thoughtful of the people he represents. I myself, was shocked and humbled by the support we received, and I hope those people who chose empathy over tradition also express their concerns to their representatives.”

In response to the criticism, MP Melillo stated in an e-mail to the Times, “I believe that acknowledging the progress our country has made and the freedoms we enjoy, is not mutually exclusive with recognizing the harm caused in the past and resolving to do better. Canada Day is a celebration of freedom, inclusivity, and human rights; this country has not always lived up to those ideals, as atrocities like the residential schools system remind us. But the ideal of Canada holds us to account and gives us something to strive for.

Since being elected in 2019, I have fought to advance reconciliation and consistently stood up for First Nations communities in the Kenora riding, and will continue to do so.”

That sentiment was reflected in MP Melillo’s July 1 Facebook message, which read “Today we celebrate the hard-fought freedoms we enjoy while striving to uphold the values and live up to the ideals of Canada.”

Although Canada Day festivities in many communities went ahead as planned, many other municipalities – including Kenora – did cancel their plans, and openly encouraged a day of reflection for citizens. In their place, many memorial events and marches took place across the country, including in Fort Frances and other Treaty #3 communities.

“It was actually one of the best July 1st experiences we have ever had,” said Ogichidaa Kavanaugh. “I spoke with many people that day and although we were honouring Residential School victims, we were also celebrating that we are still here as a people and so we chose to spend our statutory holiday together in our own way.”

The memorial events were well attended by non-indigenous supporters, according to the Grand Council release. “Despite the controversy surrounding the cancellation of Canada Day celebrations across the country, hundreds of non-indigenous supporters gathered at these events in the Treaty #3 territory to express their sorrow and solidarity.”