Vigils, protests to replace Canada Day celebrations

·4 min read
As the sun sets on Golden Lake this Canada Day, candles will line the shore to light the way home for the spirits of children who never returned from residential schools. (Nahun Diabo - image credit)
As the sun sets on Golden Lake this Canada Day, candles will line the shore to light the way home for the spirits of children who never returned from residential schools. (Nahun Diabo - image credit)

On the evening of July 1, as the sun sets upon Golden Lake, west of Ottawa, hundreds of candles will illuminate the shoreline to light the way home for the spirits of children who never returned from residential schools.

The Algonquins of Pikwàkanagàn First Nation are calling it Light Up the Lake, an evening of healing ceremonies and reflection.

"We're going to have our big drums on the shores of Golden Lake and we will be singing healing songs and sharing our songs with all our neighbours across the lake," said spokesperson Lisa Meness.

Meness said the community has been in a state of mourning since the discovery of unmarked graves at former residential schools in B.C. and Saskatchewan.

She said it was important to find a way to grieve publicly, while also "taking the opportunity to reflect on who we are as First Nations people and celebrating the resiliency of our nation, and celebrating the fact that we are still here living and thriving in our community."

Francis Ferland/CBC
Francis Ferland/CBC

The ceremony is for the Pikwàkanagàn community and invited guests, but it will also be live streamed on YouTube.

"We will be inviting our neighbours, friends and supporters who have been sending words of sympathy and condolences to our community, wanting to know how they can help us or support us during this time of sorrow and grief," Meness said.

William Blackstock from Richmond Hill, Ont., travelled to Ottawa to plant 967 orange flags on Parliament Hill to mark the growing tally of unmarked graves discovered across Canada.

"Our children, they could not speak out. This is how they need to speak out right now, and I feel that their voice needs to be heard on Parliament Hill," he said.

However, Blackstock was told by security that flags were a safety hazard and suggested he plant them at Major's Hill Park instead.

Simon Lasalle/CBC
Simon Lasalle/CBC

'Reimagine Canada (Day)'

Algonquin elder Albert Dumont said he doesn't object to people setting off fireworks and waving flags on July 1, as long as they also take time to learn about the treatment of Indigenous people.

"If there's going to be a Canada Day, then it should spell out the good, the bad and the ugly," said Dumont.

Dumont, the city's poet laureate, has been asked to write a verse for the children who died in residential schools. He'll read it during the federal government's virtual Canada Day celebrations.

The poem will describe how "this country rounded up children and brought them to a place where they could destroy children emotionally and spiritually," Dumont said.

It's going to be powerful, it's going to pack a punch, and I don't know how Canadians are going to take it. - Albert Dumont

"It's going to be powerful, it's going to pack a punch, and I don't know how Canadians are going to take it."

He's also taking part in "Reimagine Canada (Day), a virtual tour of sites around the region that are significant to the Indigenous story.

Stops along the way will include the "heart gallery" on Sussex Drive, a field of handmade hearts honouring of the 215 children whose remains were found at a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C., and Beechwood Cemetery, where both architects and critics of the residential school system have been laid to rest.

Sandra Abma/CBC
Sandra Abma/CBC

#CancelCanadaDay

Ojibwe hip-hop artist Cody Coyote plans to wear an orange shirt and join the #CancelCanadaDay march that will wind its way along the Ottawa River to Parliament Hill.

"When I see people waving Canadian flags or wearing their proud Canadian colours, that to me tells me they don't care about my life," said Coyote. "They don't care about my family, they don't care about my ancestors."

The musician is releasing a new single called Helpless in honour of both residential school survivors and the children who didn't come home.

After the march, he plans to travel north to be with relatives for a solemn ceremony at the Matachewan First Nation.

"Being with my family members in my own territory doing what my ancestors would have done, which is sing and drum and do ceremony," he said. "I don't want to be anywhere near Parliament Hill."

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