Cheryl Copage-Gehue, Indigenous Community Engagement Advisor for HRM’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, says "It's not been about canceling Canada Day or trying to take it away. It's about creating opportunities that all the diverse voices—and the first people of this territory—have an opportunity, also, to showcase our history and culture, our shared history and culture.”

This year, Halifax is celebrating July 1 differently

"It's not been about canceling Canada Day. It's about creating opportunities that all the diverse voices can showcase our history and culture."

There’s an audible inertia of background flurry on the line as Cheryl Copage-Gehue, Indigenous Community Engagement Advisor for HRM’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, answers The Coast’s phone call, stepping into another room so she can hear and be heard. Speaking from the cusp of the last minute (hence the office hubbub around her), she’s ready to discuss all the ways July 1 in Halifax is about to look a lot different this year.

The city is always responsible for the biggest bash on so-called Canada Day, offering free programming in public spaces from Dartmouth to Bedford to downtown to mark the anniversary of colonization of Mi’kma’ki (and other Indigenous nations). This year, though, the focus has shifted: “So when they uncovered the unmarked graves in May 2021 in Kamloops, that really started Indigenous people starting to relive some of the trauma that we've suppressed for a bit with the residential school. And I think it opened up the eyes of the broader Canadian public about the truth about reconciliation,” Copage-Gehue (who is Mi’kmaq) begins.

Many municipalities across the country pressed pause on Canada Day for the year, including Halifax (though in its announcement tweet, HRM blamed COVID as much as it cited truth and reconciliation).

"We met with the Nova Scotia Chiefs’ Assembly, and we talked with our Chiefs and leadership. And what they directed us was to not cancel Canada, but to take the opportunity to refocus it and reimagine it with an Indigenous lens and inclusivity."

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“We met with the Nova Scotia Chiefs’ Assembly, and we talked with our Chiefs and leadership,” Copage-Gehue continues. “And what they directed us was to not cancel Canada, but to take the opportunity to refocus it and reimagine it with an Indigenous lens and inclusivity—and create an opportunity for us to share our culture, our knowledge, our history, in a true way that really reflected with the treaties that we have signed in this region, which is the Treaties of Peace and Friendship.”

The result? A new slate of programming anchored on The Common, called Kana'ta Day (based off an Indigenous spelling of Canada). It was the product of a year’s worth of planning, with Copage-Gehue meeting at the Mi'kmaq Friendship Centre with a host of voices and perspectives, including traditional knowledge keepers and leaders of various Indigenous communities.

Instead of the waterfront fireworks from years past, there will be a Mawio'mi (a cultural village) near The Oval, rife with music, crafts, games, authentic Indigenous cuisine and more. (“You’ll have a chance to eat L’nu Tacos, build miniature teepees, hear stories from our Elders and listen to some great live music from DeeDee Austin, Blue Marshall band and even Inuit Throat Singers," says a press release from the city.) There will also be concerts at Dartmouth Ferry Terminal Park (an African Nova Scotian Music Showcase from 6-10pm, which headlines Juno-winning R&B artist JRDN) and at Grand Parade (headlined by two groups with Indigenous roots: Rock duo Crown Lands and Halifax’s own pop phenom Neon Dreams).

“We're saying it's not been about canceling Canada Day or trying to take it away, Copage-Gehue adds. “It's about creating opportunities that all the diverse voices—and the first people of this territory—have an opportunity, also, to showcase our history and culture, our shared history and culture.”

About The Author

Morgan Mullin

Morgan is the Arts & Entertainment Editor at The Coast, where she writes about everything from what to see and do around Halifax to profiles of the city’s creative class to larger cultural pieces. She’s been with The Coast since 2016.

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