'Our children are going to remember the sea of orange': Yellowknife marks July 1 with march

·4 min read
Hundreds turned out to march through the streets of Yellowknife July 1. (John Van Dusen/CBC News - image credit)
Hundreds turned out to march through the streets of Yellowknife July 1. (John Van Dusen/CBC News - image credit)

WARNING: This story contains details some readers may find distressing.

Hundreds of Yellowknifers clad in orange marched through the streets Thursday in recognition of the children that died in residential schools.

Across the country, many Canada Day celebrations were replaced with prayers and reflections for what is estimated to be more than 1,000 unmarked grave sites found near former residential schools.

In Yellowknife, a planned parade was cancelled, prompting Kaitlyn White-Keyes to organize the march.

John Van Dusen/CBC News
John Van Dusen/CBC News

She said she was taken aback by how many turned out — so many, she said the city ran out of orange shirts.

Rochdi's Your Independent Grocer, White-Keyes added, donated white shirts so that they could dye them orange.

"For the last section of our 50 shirts that were donated, we actually had to dye with turmeric because Yellowknife also ran out of orange dye," she said.

"Our children are going to remember the sea of orange, they're going to remember marching through the streets together more than they might of ever remembered a parade."

John Van Dusen/CBC News
John Van Dusen/CBC News

White-Keyes said this year marks a shift in how people approach July 1, Canada Day.

Moving forward, she said she would like to see it become a celebration of resiliency and multiculturalism. But before that, she said there are a number of hurdles to go through before she can celebrate the country again, including recovering murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls.

John Van Dusen/CBC News
John Van Dusen/CBC News

Yellowknife Mayor Rebecca Alty who took part in the march said moving forward, conversations will be held on how to celebrate Canada Day.

"I don't think this is just a one year, and 'OK that was great, we go back to normal.' I think it's reflecting on how we want to celebrate, commemorate July 1st going forward," she said.

Following the march, the crowd gathered in Somba K'e Park for a feeding of the fire ceremony and drum dance.

John Van Dusen/CBC News
John Van Dusen/CBC News
John Van Dusen/CBC News
John Van Dusen/CBC News

Diane Kent said she came to honour the memories of her family and ancestors who attended residential school.

"I didn't want to celebrate Canada Day. Coming here, this is what I wanted to do," she said.

Premier Caroline Cochrane spoke at the ceremony, calling the day a defining moment.

"Indigenous people have known for decades that their children are missing, that Canada tried to wipe out a whole culture of people. But not everyone knew that … and now the world knows. We can't hide it anymore," Cochrane said.

"It's time to ask ourselves what kind of Canada do we want to live in? What kind of Canadian do I want to be?"

John Van Dusen/CBC News
John Van Dusen/CBC News

Grant White was conflicted about how he felt, but proud of his daughter who organized the march.

"It really is mixed feelings. As a proud Canadian and then as a proud Indigenous man, it's a spilt," he said.

"You're proud of your country but your surely not proud of some of the past that has happened to our family members and to our people."

Support is available for anyone affected by the effects of residential schools, and those who are triggered by the latest reports.

The Indian Residential School Survivors Society (IRSSS) can be contacted toll-free at 1-800-721-0066.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.

The NWT Help Line offers free support to residents of the Northwest Territories, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It is 100% free and confidential. The NWT Help Line also has an option for follow-up calls. Residents can call the help line at 1-800-661-0844.

In Nunavut, the Kamatsiaqtut Help Line is open 24 hours a day at 1-800-265-3333. People are invited to call for any reason.

In Yukon, mental health services are available to those in both Whitehorse and in rural Yukon communities through Mental Wellness and Substance Use Services. Yukoners can schedule Rapid Access Counselling supports in Whitehorse and all MWSU community hubs by calling 1-867-456-3838.

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