ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — Many in the Atlantic provinces abandoned fireworks and red-and-white flags on Thursday, opting to swap traditional Canada Day festivities for a show of solidarity with Indigenous Peoples.
In St. John's, N.L., around 200 people crowded the downtown Colonial Building courtyard for a "Cancel Canada Day" demonstration, huddled under umbrellas, hoods and rain hats as a cold, hard rain refused to let up. Bright orange "Decolonize YYT" shirts popped from beneath half-zipped jackets and some wore them over their rain gear.
"How are we expected to celebrate today?" Stacey Howse, executive director of the First Light friendship centre, asked the crowd. "How do we celebrate as we continue to uncover the remains of our people? How do we celebrate, knowing that there are many more?"
At times, the crowd chanted, "No pride in genocide."
Saskatchewan's Cowessess First Nation last week said that ground-penetrating radar detected 751 unmarked graves at the former Marieval Indian Residential School, not long after the discovery of what are believed to be the remains of 215 children in Kamloops, B.C. On Wednesday, the Lower Kootenay Band said a search using ground-penetrating radar had found 182 human remains in unmarked graves at a site close to a former residential school in Cranbrook, B.C.
Orange shirts are worn to recognize the experiences of First Nations, Metis and Inuit children in residential schools, inspired by Phyllis Webstad, a First Nations woman who in 1973 had a new orange shirt ripped away from her at the St. Joseph Mission Residential School in British Columbia.
In Nova Scotia, the Sipekne'katik First Nation held an event called "A Day of Healing" which began with a smudging ceremony near the former Shubenacadie Indian Residential School. Chief Mike Sack said the events was emotional and, at times, difficult.
"We're trying to celebrate and bring good to it, but there's a definitely a heavy-hearted feeling," he said in an interview Thursday. "You have people in the crowd that have been there. And you couldn't imagine what they've gone through."
About 65 kilometres away, in Halifax, Larry Haiven was part of a group of about 15 people who gathered in a public park downtown to host a public reading of sections from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report called the "What We Have Learned: Principles of Truth and Reconciliation."
"We're just going to be here for an hour and thought this is a good thing to do on Canada Day to commemorate the terrible things that happened in the residential schools," Haiven said in an interview Thursday. He said the group hoped people passing by would stop and read with them.
Back in St. John's, Paula McDonald was quietly tying orange ribbons onto the imposing black fence that stretches across the front of the Colonial Building.
"This is very close to my heart," she said, noting that her husband and her two kids are Indigenous. "Most of their family members have been in residential schools."
As she tied the ribbons, tiny orange paper hearts fell out of her pocket and fluttered to the sidewalk. She put her hand in her pocket and laughed.
"I want to make sure there's enough orange," she said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 1, 2021.
Sarah Smellie, The Canadian Press