GANANOQUE – The beat of drums and the strumming of a guitar played over the sound of passing cars as people gathered here to reflect on the hundreds of Indigenous children whose remains were recently found across Canada.
On this Canada Day, the flag outside Town Hall flew at half mast as Mayor Ted Lojko asked those gathered for a moment of silence.
"Today is a day that we kind of don't want to be here, but we feel we have to be here, so that we can speak about the things that have been discovered, and speak about the injustices that have happened, or the things that have been forgotten," said Kevin John Saylor, co-chairman of The First Peoples of The Thousand Islands Committee.
Following the 215 unmarked graves found in Kamloops, BC, The First Peoples of The Thousand Islands Committee had a ceremony at the town hall to remember the children. The Canada Day event was the second ceremony in remembrance of the Indigenous people buried in unmarked gravesites.
"Today seemed like an appropriate day to bring down the celebration to something more solemn, because Canada needs to atone for some very deep wrongs, and deep wounds that have been inflicted, so I think Canada Day is very appropriate for this celebration," said Clarice Gervais, who smudged sage to cleanse the area throughout the ceremony.
John Saylor added: "Do we celebrate colonization? I think 32 million people say yes; I think the other few million say why would we celebrate that? It's just something to ponder and think about and talk about, and that's why we're here."
There was a sea of orange in front of the building, as a hundred or more community members wore orange in unity with Indigenous and non-Indigenous people of Turtle Island (North America) and across Canada.
Within the crowd of people stood Lojko, who offered a land acknowledgement: "We begin this Canada Day by acknowledging that we are on traditional territory of the Haudenosaunee Nation, as well as the Anishinaabe Nations, and the First Peoples Nation."
"We do so by respecting both the land and Indigenous people who continue to walk with us throughout this world," he added.
The front steps of the town hall were lined with rows of children's shoes; people who attended the memorial, Indigenous or not, were asked to place shoes on the steps if they wanted to.
The shoes are left for those who never made it home, said Gervais.
"We don't know if they made it home in spirit either. So we want to encourage them to go home, and we want to give them the shoes that they need to go home because of course everything was taken from them, even their shoes."
The last residential school was closed down 25 years ago, in 1996, and more than 150,000 Metis, Inuit and First Nations attended those schools.
Many Indigenous people feel that, despite good intentions, the government of Canada could do more along the lines of truth and reconciliation.
"They just have to follow through with their intentions. Let's figure out who these poor children are, what happened to their families, and why is there so much trouble with some of the native populations … it's partly, in a big way, going through this system and not being able to be who you are or follow your culture or families," said John Saylor.
The Town of Gananoque is supportive of the committee to use the town hall for the memorials.
"They have been trying to consult, and it's a bit of a road. They're still learning but they're trying to consult. It's still not quite enough; I think hearts need to open a little further but it’s starting," said Gervais.
Lojko added in his acknowledgement: "In recognition to the importance of all the Indigenous people, we strongly support truth and reconciliation calls to action in our nation and continue to support local endeavors where possible."
Jessica Munro, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brockville Recorder and Times