WARNING: This story contains details some readers may find distressing.
Organizers of a Canada Day parade in Yellowknife are meeting Saturday to discuss what the event will look like as the country grapples with the discovery of unmarked graves at residential schools, according to Wayne Guy, the president of the Rotary Club of Yellowknife.
Cancelling it, he said, is on the table.
"That is one option, certainly. I'll leave it to the committee and the discussion that enfolds," he said of the meeting scheduled for Saturday. "We'd like to reach out to those who have concerns about the celebratory aspects of the event, and to really have a dialogue and go from there."
The preliminary findings of hundreds of unmarked graves at former residential school sites in Saskatchewan and British Columbia have raised questions about whether Canada's birthday — and its colonial origins — are worth celebrating.
For Marina St Croix, a Yellowknives Dene First Nation band member, the answer is obvious.
"It's not the right time to be having a big celebration and saying 'hey let's have a parade, and let's have fireworks, and let's celebrate how great Canada is.'"
In a joint media statement issued Friday evening, the Yellowknives Dene First Nation and the City of Yellowknife said it would be acknowledging the past on July 1 with a prayer, a drum dance, a fire feeding ceremony and speeches at Somba K'e Civic Plaza.
"We as a nation should honour the lives lost and rebuild our relationship with all nationalities of Canada," said Chief Edward Sangris, of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, in the statement. "Our own selves need to learn how to live harmonious with each other to move forward and to remember this dark history in our past and ensure this never repeats itself."
Yellowknife Mayor Rebecca Alty said it's an opportunity to honour Indigenous peoples, acknowledge the past, and commit to reconciliation.
"I will be wearing orange in honour of the thousands of children sent to residential schools and for the families who lives were forever changed."
The statement does not make reference to July 1 as Canada Day.
Catalyst for discussion
St Croix said she was "appalled" when she realized the rotary club, an organization that gave her a leadership award in high school, was planning a celebratory event.
"There's so many bigger cities that have completely cancelled it, and they've cancelled it in recognition that there are a ton of Indigenous people grieving," she said. "We as a family are grieving."
Flora & The Fireweeds, a folk music band in Yellowknife, acknowledged in a Facebook post that it's a "strange year" to be playing for Canada Day celebrations.
"In the absence of calls from local Indigenous leaders to cancel Canada Day, we as a band have decided to play the show as we have committed to, in orange, and to donate 100 per cent of our performance fee to the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada."
St Croix wants the parade in Yellowknife to be cancelled, and plans to block it with her family if it goes ahead. But, she said, replacing it with a day to honour victims of residential schools is another option.
"If this is a day that people are grieving then let's, for this year, everyone wear orange and march to honour those residential school survivors," she said.
Guy, the rotary club president, said he doesn't know what kind of form the event will take on July 1 — if it takes any form, at all. "I think it'll create a catalyst for a great discussion, and we'll see how we can move together as a group."
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.