Ontario's first Indigenous senator says an invitation to take part in National Indigenous Peoples Day celebrations in Sioux Lookout, Ont., Thursday is "a huge honour."

Yvonne Boyer was named an independent senator representing Ontario by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in March. Boyer, who is a member of the Métis Nation of Ontario, is a lawyer and a scholar with a focus on improving health care services to the country's Indigenous people.

She will be the special guest at a sunrise ceremony early Thursday morning in Sioux Lookout on National Indigenous Peoples Day. Sioux Lookout is about 400 kilometres northwest of Thunder Bay.

"I'm excited because the ceremony is very meaningful to me, personally," Boyer said of the ceremony, slated to take place at Sioux Lookout's Centennial Park.

"This is always something that I have taken to heart, this ceremony ... and to be asked to participate in it and be part of it is probably one of the biggest honours of my life," she continued.

"I'm very humbled to be asked and I'm just thrilled to be there."

Boyer is also a former member of the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

She was invited by Garnet Angeconeb, one of the organizers of the day's events in Sioux Lookout and a recipient of the Order of Canada for his work in bettering race relations. Boyer taking part in a traditional and spiritual ceremony that greets a new day is symbolic, Angeconeb said.

"Having the first Indigenous Ontario senator be with us in Sioux Lookout on that day, it really marks a new beginning in terms of renewed relations between Indigenous people and Canada," he said.

'The power is phenomenal'

The ceremony itself will be a "powerful" experience, Boyer said, adding that the ones in which she's taken part have been very special.

"It's the time that the Creator hears you," she said. "The smudging ceremony that goes with the sunrise ceremony — the smoke that arises — goes directly to the Creator."

"The power is phenomenal that we're able to experience and it actually brings tears to your eyes because it's so powerful, you can feel it from the moment that sun starts to rise and it just encompasses you."

Additionally, while in Sioux Lookout, Boyer is scheduled to visit the Meno Ya Win Health Centre — who, along with the Nishnawbe-Gamik Friendship Centre were involved in coordinating the day's events, Angeconeb said — as well as the former site of the so-called "Indian hospital" that used to be in the community.

She's also scheduled to attend Thursday's powwow.

The planned trips to the modern regional hospital in Sioux Lookout as well as site of a medical facility with a painful history is also poignant, Angeconeb said, adding that Thursday is a chance to celebrate the kind of progress and successes, like the Meno Ya Win facility, that have come from cultures partnering together.
 

It's very, I think, important that she sees where we have come from in terms of healthcare for Indigenous people to where we're at now," he said. "We can celebrate, by working together, to have a really fine facility for all people in the region."

Events like the powwow are another opportunity for that kind of sharing, Angeconeb said.

National Indigenous Peoples Day is a chance for "all of Canada to stop what they're doing and ... look at the original people of this country," Boyer said.

"Let's thank them for their contributions, let's thank them for what they have given us and what we can learn from them and how we go forward together."

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