An Indigenous leader has accused people who want The Forks to keep celebrating Canada Day of perpetuating colonialism.

An Indigenous leader has accused people who want The Forks to keep celebrating Canada Day of perpetuating colonialism.

Northern Grand Chief Garrison Settee said he commends The Forks for re-branding July 1 into A New Day and removing Canada Day from the festivities.

"The Forks is a well-loved meeting place in Treaty One territory, Winnipeg," Settee said in a statement released on Wednesday. "I commend The Forks for making space for the important conversations that we need to advance reconciliation.

"Those who wish to criticize the actions of The Forks demonstrates a mindset that perpetuates colonialism. This reflects a superiority complex we are trying to get away from and it is unfortunately not conducive to reconciliation."

Last week, The Forks announced it planned to expunge Canada Day from July 1 festivities. That includes scrapping the popular fireworks display and live entertainment on the big stage in the evening.

Instead, the day will include powwow dancers, drumming, storytelling, basketball and soccer tournaments, and smaller-scale live music.

The Forks said it arrived at the new concept after holding discussions with members of the Indigenous community, newcomers, and youth.

In the wake of the announcement, former MP and cabinet minister Lloyd Axworthy, who helped create The Forks during his time in government, criticized the move saying "there is a pattern developing where we almost are awkward to call ourselves Canadians.

"The Forks was done with the idea it would be a downtown gathering place for all Winnipeggers. I’ve always taken great satisfaction with how it developed and how it became a public space."

Axworthy, the former president of the University of Winnipeg, said he hopes the board of The Forks reverses its decision.

Settee said last year’s July 1 events included the No Pride in Genocide rally held at the legislature shortly after potential unmarked grave sites of Indigenous children were found at former residential schools.

He said he knows there will be more children found in grave sites, including children in Manitoba.

"I’m asking all Canadians to continue to advance the dialogue on reconciling with Canada’s extremely dark past," Settee said.

"It is important we continue to talk about and share our knowledge of the legacy of residential schools. The impact of the schools continues to affect both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians. The healing work must continue.

"Working together we can build a much better country. Let’s work together to create a country we can all be proud to celebrate together."

Several Winnipeg mayoral candidates have weighed in on The Forks’ decision.

Jenny Moktaluk said "I think it’s very important that, as Canadians, we have an opportunity to celebrate Canada Day every single year without undue influence or people trying to make us feel like there’s something wrong with celebrating Canada Day."

Rana Bokhari said "I think The Forks did a really good job, I think they consulted in the right way and I think, as Winnipeggers, we have to come together and allow people to heal and meet them where they are at."

Scott Gillingham said "The Forks has a great program planned and I’m not sure that it’s the role of a mayoral candidate to micromanage their events … The bigger point of the matter that really, I can’t stress enough, is (the debate is) to the point of being overblown."

Don Woodstock called the new event an example of "cancel culture" adding "we have issues that we need to work on… but it shouldn’t stop us from getting together as a people to celebrate."

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.