Saskatchewan observes a different kind of Canada Day

·5 min read
The Bring Them Home event in Saskatoon's Kiwanis Park was designed to commemorate children who died while attending Residential Schools across Canada. (Dayne Patterson/CBC - image credit)
The Bring Them Home event in Saskatoon's Kiwanis Park was designed to commemorate children who died while attending Residential Schools across Canada. (Dayne Patterson/CBC - image credit)

July 1 is here but people across the province and country are marking the holiday differently.

In the wake of hundreds of unmarked graves found on Cowessess First Nation and in Kamloops, there have been calls to cancel or postpone Canada Day celebrations.

In Saskatoon, hundreds of people gathered in Kiwanis Park for an event called Bring Them Home which focused on the legacy of residential schools, and healing and support for those who attended them.

Most of the crowd wore orange, a colour which represents solidarity with the Indigenous children whose unmarked graves were discovered near residential schools across the country.

Co-organizer Allison Forsberg doesn't believe anyone should be celebrating a traditional Canada Day this year.

Dayne Patterson/CBC
Dayne Patterson/CBC

"If we look at everything around us in this country, it is all built from the attempted eradication of Indigenous people," she told CBC. "I'm ashamed to be part of a country that has caused so much hurt."

She said the federal government's apology for residential schools in 2008 was followed with no action. It has disappointed her.

"I felt for a long time because everything that's happened in Canadian history it's caused a lot of broken homes, broken people, and I felt like I came from that but I recognize I'm not broken," she said.

"The government tried to eradicate us and we're still standing, we're still here."

Dayne Patterson/CBC
Dayne Patterson/CBC

Ashalee Hicks, a Cree-Saulteaux woman and a member of the Cowessess First Nation, was one of several people to speak at the event. She attended the former Marieval Indian Residential School as a day scholar, which meant she could go home in the evenings.

"I've been struggling to describe the way I feel after hearing the news of 751 unmarked graves discovered at my former school. While I've always known there were unmarked graves, like many, I am shaken by that number,"

"I was a day scholar, and I got to go home. Bring them home."

Celia Clennell is a residential school survivor who attended. She's glad that the history of genocide and colonialism in Canada are being brought to light.

"When I went, there were six of us in our family that went to residential schools … and when we got there we were all separated. I never saw my sisters after that," she said.

"These are little angels. Imagine yourself being sick and you die alone. You're taken away from your family … you don't know who you are, you don't know your culture, you don't know your language."

Dayne Patterson/CBC
Dayne Patterson/CBC

The main Canada Day event and fireworks in Saskatoon are organized by the Optimist Club, but the club has already cancelled those events due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Mayor Charlie Clark previously told CBC that in any event, the time is not right for festivities.

"We are in a time of mourning in our community and our country. It does not feel like a time for celebration. It feels like a time to reckon with the truth of residential schools and the impacts of racism and colonial relationships in our country," Clark said in a statement to CBC.

Clark spoke at Kiwanis Park and recognized the foundations of colonization that the city was built on.

"The establishment of residential schools undertook to eradicate Indigenous people, to create cultural genocide," he said. "It's devastating to think about, it's hard to imagine — and here we are today, having to reckon with that."

A candlelight vigil was planned for Thursday evening at the Broadway Bridge.

Buffalo Day

In Regina, a group is instead offering an educational opportunity. The Buffalo People Arts Institute is holding Buffalo Day at the newly renamed Buffalo Meadows Park. It will begin with a pipe ceremony and include a feast, a children's powwow and storytelling.

Mayor Sandra Masters previously told reporters she intends to spend part of her day at the event and that traditional Canada Day events had previously been cancelled due to COVID-19 concerns. There's no intention to reschedule the traditional celebration, she said.

Charles Bourgeois/SRC
Charles Bourgeois/SRC

People are also organizing 751 backpacks at the Saskatchewan Legislature to mark the 751 unmarked graves found at the former Marieval Indian Residential School on Cowessess First Nation. Organizer Prairie Crowe hopes the display will provide the province with a stark illustration.

"[It's] just to symbolize them and show the number … just to have a visual impact," she told CBC News.

SRC
SRC

In the evening, members of the First Nations University of Canada's (FNUniv's) students association will be holding a smudge walk on campus in Regina starting at 7 p.m. CST. There will also be a candlelight vigil starting at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum at 6:15 CST.

"I've noticed many of our students are hurting," FNUniv student Micah Stonechild told CBC.

The leadership of Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC) has also cancelled plans to celebrate Canada Day in response to the hundreds of children's remains discovered at Indian residential schools.

Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte said in a statement that the holiday should be a day to mourn and grieve together. He asked fellow Canadians to not engage in celebratory events. Instead, he said people should step back and think about the colonial history of Canada.

"The discovery of the mass graves is a reminder that we need to honour the children who never came home, and this is the time to rethink the damaging effects of the residential schools," Hardlotte said.

"We are urging our fellow Canadians to spend this day learning about the truth of these injustices, and to think about what is needed for us to promote healing. Let these events move us on a path toward reconciliation and be the impetus for true, lasting, meaningful change."

A number of other communities across the province have cancelled or postponed Canada Day festivities.

City of Melville/Facebook
City of Melville/Facebook

The City of Melville cancelled its festivities and instead asked people to put a candle or hang an orange shirt in their window in solidarity with residential school survivors. The City of Meadow Lake postponed their fireworks and drive-in movies to July 8.

As well, Wahpeton Dakota Nation, Flying Dust First Nation and the northern tri-communities La Ronge, the Lac La Ronge Indian Band and the Village of Air Ronge have all announced they will not be celebrating the July 1 holiday.

SRC
SRC
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