Dene National Chief wants to rethink Canada Day

Dene National Chief Norman Yakeleya. (File photo/CKLB).

Dene National Chief Norman Yakeleya wants to rename Canada Day to Family Day.

“We want to bring our families back together again and do it on the land,” he says.

Many northern communities are turning Canada Day into a day to honour those that have passed.

The shift comes after several Indigenous nations have brought to light mass graves, some related to former residential schools.

“Because families were displaced and dispersed to residential schools, the sixties scoop, the child welfare (system), the whole family was shattered,” he says.

“Canada cannot celebrate that.”

Yakeleya wants the Dene people to reflect on these tragedies and to honour who they are.

He remembers a time when being Dene was wrong and shameful so he’s using July 1 as a way to honour his culture.

“(We’re the) people now making that change,” he says.

“The best thing is to go to the land with your family and friends, to really know what it’s like to live with each other,” he says.

That’s how he wants residents to spend the day: getting in tune with who they are again, aside from this colonial celebration.

Canada Day cancelled

Fort Simpson is one of the communities choosing not to celebrate Canada Day this year.

According to a Facebook post, the community is choosing instead to support local vendors, play traditional games and reflect upon the residential school system in the country.

“The Village needs to recognize these injustices as a stain on Canadian history,” reads the post.

The Town of Hay River will also not be celebrating.

“It is not an appropriate time to celebrate,” says Mayor Kandis Jameson.

Instead, the community will be hosting a fire feeding ceremony and tea dance at the Old Village in the afternoon.

The City of Yellowknife in partnership with the Yellowknives Dene First Nation (YKDFN) will also be joining the movement.

Residents can head over to Somba K’e Civic Plaza “to honour Indigenous Peoples and acknowledge the past with a prayer, drum dance, feeding of the fire ceremony, and speeches.”

The event is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. and a live broadcast will be available online.

The community of Tsiigehtchic on the other hand will be celebrating Canada Day.

Tsiigehtchic will kick off celebrations with a pancake breakfast in the morning followed by a parade and several traditional games and contests throughout the day.

About the Author

Mariah Caruso
Mariah Caruso is a digital journalist, originally from Toronto, Canada. She graduated from the University of Toronto with a Hons. Bachelor of Arts and completed her Journalism post-grad at Sheridan College. She has an insatiable appetite for life, storytelling, connecting to the people, and getting to the heart of the issue. On her spare time, you can find her at your local coffee shop writing songs, poetry and prose or at the gym out-lifting men. If you have a story idea, feel free to send her an email at or call 867-766-2552 Ext 108