WARNING: This story contains distressing details.
As many communities across Saskatchewan postpone or cancel traditional Canada Day festivities this year, Premier Scott Moe says he'll still be celebrating but in a "much lower-key event."
In the wake of the discovery of what are believed to be hundreds of unmarked residential school graves on Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan and Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation in B.C., many communities across Canada, including some in Saskatchewan, have chosen to spend Thursday grieving the lives lost and honouring residential school survivors.
During a news conference Tuesday, Moe said he respects those communities' decisions and will be keeping similar thoughts in mind.
"I will also be reflecting — much more than I have on other Canada Days — on our history, both our positive history in this nation but also our history that's not so positive and quite negative," he told reporters.
Moe added that he'll be thinking of advice from Cowessess Chief Cadmus Delorme about how the province needs to move forward in reconciliation.
"What we have the opportunity to do, as people of today's generation, is to determine how we act and how we move forward as an inclusive society," Moe said.
"This is part of the reconciliation path and reconciliation road that we need to travel. And we need to travel it together, all of us — Indigenous as well as non-Indigenous people."
Opposition NDP Leader Ryan Meili said he plans to reflect on the "tragic history of residential schools and the persistent injustices in our nation today" this Canada Day. He also supports communities' choices to not hold their usual events this year.
"We cannot turn away from what has happened in our province and in our country," Meili wrote in an emailed statement to CBC News.
"This year, Canada Day has to be about acknowledging the failures of the past and present and committing to a better future."
In a recent interview on Rosemary Barton Live, Chief Delorme said he wouldn't dictate how people should spend their Canada Day. However, he suggested Canadians read the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's final report and learn how they have inherited the legacy of residential schools.
"No Indigenous person in this country is looking for pity. We're just looking to stop fighting just to be an Indian in this country," Delorme said. "Stand beside us. Let us heal, let us develop and let us coincide as to how treaty was supposed to be at the beginning."
Backpack display a learning opportunity: Moe
After sharing his thoughts on how he plans to mark Canada Day, Moe pointed to the placement of hundreds of backpacks in front of the Saskatchewan Legislature — a display arranged by community advocate Prairie Crowe, who grew up on the Piapot First Nation.
Through donations, Crowe is laying hundreds of backpacks filled with school supplies on the steps of legislature this week, as a memorial to those in the unmarked graves recently found on Cowessess.
She said her goal is to donate everything after Canada Day to community organizations, which will distribute the backpacks to children on reserves or in Regina who need them.
Moe said that provides an opportunity to raise awareness about the residential school system, encouraging people to take initiative to learn more about its impact on Indigenous people.
"I think that's really indicative of taking some positive steps into the future," he said. "These backpacks are there to recognize our past, but also they're filled with school supplies to help those as we move forward."
Moe said a lesson for people lies embedded in the symbolism of the backpacks.
"As we approach Canada Day this year, celebrate however you feel is appropriate for you, but certainly take some time to reflect on our shared history and where we're going," Moe encouraged Saskatchewanians.
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.