WARNING: This story contains details that some readers may find distressing.
Organizers of a Canada Day parade in Yellowknife meet on Saturday to discuss what the event will look like as the country grapples with the discovery of anonymous graves in residential schools, according to Wayne Guy, president of Rotary Yellowknife Club.
Canceling it, he said, is on the table.
“It’s an option, certainly. I’ll leave it to the committee and the discussion that follows,” he said of the meeting scheduled for Saturday. “We would like to reach out to those who have concerns about the festive aspects of the event, and really have a dialogue and go from there.”
Preliminary discoveries of hundreds of anonymous graves at the sites of former residential schools in Saskatchewan and British Columbia have raised questions as to whether Canada’s birthday – and its colonial origins – are worth celebrating.
For Marina St Croix, a member of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation Band, the answer is obvious.
“Now is not a good time to throw a big party and say ‘Hey, let’s have a parade, let’s have fireworks and celebrate how great Canada is.’”
In a joint press release issued Friday evening, the Dene First Nation of Yellowknives and the City of Yellowknife said they would recognize the past on July 1 with a prayer, drum dance, fire-feeding ceremony and fireworks. speech at Somba K’e Civic Plaza.
“As a nation, we should honor the lives lost and rebuild our relationship with all of Canada’s nationalities,” Chief Edward Sangris of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation said in the statement. “We have to learn to live in harmony with one another to move forward and remember this dark story from our past and make sure it never happens again.”
Yellowknife Mayor Rebecca Alty said it was an opportunity to honor Indigenous peoples, recognize the past and commit to reconciliation.
“I will wear orange in honor of the thousands of children sent to residential schools and for families whose lives have changed forever.
The statement does not refer to July 1 as Canada Day.
St Croix said she was “appalled” when she realized that the Rotary club, an organization that awarded her a high school leadership award, was planning a celebratory event.
“There are so many big cities that canceled it completely, and they canceled it recognizing that there are a ton of aboriginal people in mourning,” she said. “As a family, we are in mourning.”
Flora & The Fireweeds, a folk music group from Yellowknife, admitted in a Facebook post that it was a “weird year” to perform for Canada Day celebrations.
“With no calls from local Indigenous leaders to cancel Canada Day, we as a group decided to perform the show as we pledged, in orange, and donate 100% of our fees. First Nations Child Advocacy and Family Caring Society of Canada.
St Croix wants the parade in Yellowknife canceled and plans to block it with his family if it goes ahead. But, she said, replacing it with a day to honor residential school victims is another option.
“If this is a day when people are crying, then this year everyone is wearing orange and walking to honor residential school survivors,” she said.
Guy, the president of the Rotary club, said he didn’t know what sort of shape the event will take on July 1 – if it takes any shape. “I think this will create a catalyst for a great discussion, and we’ll see how we can move forward together as a group.”
Support is available for anyone affected by the effects of residential schools and those triggered by the latest reports.
The Indian Residential School Survivors Society (IRSSS) can be contacted toll free at 1-800-721-0066.
A national residential school crisis line has been established to provide support to 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 Northwest Territories Helpline offers free support to residents of the Northwest Territories, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It’s 100% free and confidential. The Northwest Territories helpline 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 welcome to call for any reason.
In the Yukon, mental health services are provided to residents of Whitehorse and rural Yukon communities through Mental Wellness and Addiction Services. Yukoners can schedule quick-access counseling services in Whitehorse and at any MWSU community hubs by calling 1-867-456-3838.