WARNING: This story contains details some readers may find distressing.
Main Street in Stephenville is now adorned with a crosswalk celebrating Mi'kmaw culture.
The crosswalk is the first of its kind in Nujio'qonik, the Mi'kmaw name for the Bay St. George region, said designer Paul Pike, who works with the People of the Dawn Indigenous Friendship Centre.
"To be able to host it here in Stephenville was really important to us as a way of elevating and supporting the Mi'kmaq people," Pike said in an interview Monday. "It's a great way to instill pride."
Stephenville mayor Tom Rose said that the crosswalk is a symbol of respect and reconciliation, as well as an acknowledgment that the town sits on the ancestral homeland of Mi'kmaq.
"I feel that we're on a journey with our Indigenous population in Stephenville and the Bay St. George region, and we felt it was very, very important," Rose said.
The crosswalk uses traditional Mi'kmaw symbols and petroglyphs to welcome visitors to Main Street, Pike said, including a wigwam to symbolize welcoming, a peace star representing the sun and a circle representing unity.
"We honour you" and "creator hold us strong" are inscribed at the top and bottom of the crosswalk in both Mi'kmaw and English.
"There's a lot of symbolism there," Pike said. "It shows visibility."
'A reconciliation, a prayer and a duty of respect'
The crosswalk was unveiled at a time of reckoning across Canada for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people alike.
On Thursday, the Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan announced preliminary findings of 751 unmarked graves near the former Marieval Indian Residential School.
That announcement followed last month's discovery of a burial site adjacent to the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in B.C. that preliminary findings indicate contains the remains of 215 children.
"Sadly, with all the events that have gone on throughout the country, this became an important time, I think, for us to really see this happen and see it through," Pike said.
The #CancelCanadaDay movement has gained momentum across the country, with calls to spend the day in reflection rather than celebration. Some municipalities, including Wabana and Corner Brook, have cancelled festivities, citing respect for Indigenous peoples, while others had already scaled back plans due to COVID-19
Rose said that he has been in talks with the People of the Dawn Indigenous Friendship Centre and the Newfoundland Aboriginal Women's Network, in addition to the Stephenville town council, about the matter.
"We think that this Canada Day will be a sombre, a reconciliation, a prayer and a duty of respect as leaders to recognize the horrific things that did happen," Rose said.
Pike believes that this Canada Day is a time for reflection on a "historical trauma."
"It's a time to stand together as community members across the nation, really, and say that we need to acknowledge that this happened in order to move forward," Pike said. "We need to fully acknowledge it in its totality."
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 line: 1-866-925-4419.