WARNING: This story contains distressing details.
On July 1, people will plant seeds at the newly named Peace and Friendship Park in Halifax, N.S., as a memorial for the children who were forced to go to residential schools and never returned home.
The orange flowers will serve as a reminder to Nova Scotians in the years to come that the horrors of residential schools aren't confined to the past, said Trevor Labrador, who is helping to organize Thursday's gathering.
"On July 1st it's going to hit hard, but I'm going to speak and I'm going to speak about my past and let people know that it's not the past no more. It's being brought back," he told CBC Radio's Mainstreet on Tuesday.
Labrador, 36, was among thousands of Indigenous children forced to attend residential schools that operated across Canada between 1831 and 1996.
"You have us survivors out there that can't get over what happened to us and it will never go away," he said.
Solemn gatherings and ceremonies will replace the typical Canada Day celebrations in many communities across the country this year as people come to terms with the discoveries of hundreds of unmarked graves at residential schools in B.C. and Saskatchewan.
Labrador said the gathering at Peace and Friendship Park is open to anyone who wants to reflect and show their support for Indigenous communities that are grieving.
It will begin at 1 p.m. with a prayer and smudge. There will be speakers and food and the gathering will end with a walk to the waterfront and the singing of the Water Song.
"I thought it was a good choice to go to the water and do a song that kids didn't get to enjoy in the past and now we can appreciate that our kids in attendance tomorrow can enjoy the song," said co-organizer Caitlyn Moore.
'What Good Canadians Do'
In downtown Dartmouth, Mi'kmaw writer and activist Rebecca Thomas's poem "What Good Canadians Do" will be part of a display on the side of the old post office building.
People will be able to hear a recording of Thomas reading her poem that will play every four minutes or so from 9 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.
"I wrote this poem because as an Indigenous person celebrating Canada Day, it feels uncomfortable. It makes me feel really frustrated. You know, it makes me feel kind of angry sometimes," said Thomas, who originally wrote the poem for Canada 150 and reworked some of it for this July 1.
She hopes her words hold a mirror up to people who are often quick to defend Canada as a welcoming and polite nation and then attack those who point out its treatment of Indigenous people.
"Do you still feel that way when you think about Indigenous people?" said Thomas. "Are you welcoming? Do you empathize? Do you support us?"
Thomas plans to spend July 1 fishing, somewhere away from Halifax where she hopes there are no fireworks to scare her dogs.
Flag to fly at city hall, Province House
The Halifax Regional Municipality has cancelled its usual July 1 firework celebration due to COVID-19, and on its website encourages people to take time to reflect about what meaningful reconciliation looks like.
This year an orange and white flag created by Mi'kmaw designers in collaboration with community members will also be flown at city hall and Province House.
Paulina Meader is one of the people who contributed to the design. She grew up in Membertou and now lives in Halifax, and her paternal grandmother was a survivor of the Shubenacadie Residential School.
The flag includes a white heart at the centre with the Mi'kmaw hieroglyph for child and the words msit mijua'ji'j kesite'tasit, which translates to "every child is precious."
"I've had so many people tell me they're so grateful and it's so powerful, and it makes me really emotional because it felt really simple to me and it just came together really beautifully," Meader told CBC's Mainstreet on Wednesday.
Mayor Mike Savage said the municipality is trying to build a better relationship with Indigenous people.
He pointed to the renaming of Peace and Friendship Park and the municipality's partnership with the Mi'kmaw Native Friendship Centre to build new affordable housing.
He also said it's possible Canada Day celebrations will return in the future.
"I think you should celebrate those things that you're proud of and just not let it stop you from acknowledging the things that are scars on our history and working together to make them better," he said.
Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools, and those who are triggered by these reports.
A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for residential school survivors and others affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.
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