There will be no festivities in many cities across Canada this year on July 1, as the country grapples with the discovery of over 1,300 children’s bodies in the past month at residential schools.
The most recent discovery of 721 bodies buried in unmarked graves at a residential school in Saskatchewan resulted in louder calls for Canada Day to be cancelled across the country, as some say it is an insensitive celebration of genocide against Indigenous people in light of the recent discoveries.
Closer to home, communities surrounding Six Nations have either entirely cancelled or modified Canada Day activities to honour the lives lost and the impacts of residential schools on Indigenous people.
Six Nations of the Grand River Elected Council reached out to surrounding communities last week to request they cancel or modify their Canada Day plans.
“I won’t be celebrating or commemorating Canada’s birthday, nor will my family,” said Coun. Nathan Wright. “There’s many allies following suit and cancelling their events, whether it be fireworks or commemoration, all across the country.”
He suggested elected council make Canada Day a “flex day” for council staff, as many Indigenous people have never celebrated Canada Day anyway.
Elected Chief Mark Hill said his family will not be celebrating Canada Day, either.
“We want to turn that (day) into a positive and celebrate our people and our children.”
He said as Six Nations embarks on a journey to investigate potential hidden burials at the former Mohawk Institute Residential School in Brantford, a celebration would be inappropriate.
“We are embarking on a really sensitive journey and I don’t think it’s a time to celebrate Canada Day at all.”
Meanwhile, the federal government heeded calls to create a national, statutory holiday on Sept. 30 for Truth and Reconciliation since the discovery of the hidden remains of 215 children at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia on May 27 sent shockwaves across the country and around the world.
Elected Council will be seeking community input on how to commemorate that day on Six Nations.
“I think we need to have the voice of our community heard on this one,” said Coun. Audrey Powless-Bomberry. “We should do whatever we can on this one. We have to know what our membership want to do (for the 30th). We have all been touched, in one way or another, by the loss experienced at residential schools.”
Coun. Melba Thomas suggested installing a large orange flag at the council building to commemorate the lives lost. Orange is the colour associated with residential school victims and survivors.
Coun. Sherri-lyn Hill-Pierce also said she’s never celebrated Canada Day and she believes non-Indigenous people should be educated more on the impacts of residential schools on Indigenous people.
“I think people still don’t understand the effects of it, even today, the surviving descendants of it.”
Coun. Wright has asked neighbouring communities to refrain from lighting fireworks this Thursday as a show of respect.
“If I knew that my neighbour had just come back from a funeral or had a loss, I would not be shooting off fireworks that evening, just out of respect,” he said.
The City of Brantford announced on Monday modified Canada Day activities, and the city will not be lighting fireworks. The city is also donating $100,000 to the Mohawk Institute’s “Save the Evidence Campaign”, which aims to renovate the former residential school and keep it up as an historical building to educate people about the atrocities of the schools, which aimed to assimilate Indigenous people into the burgeoning colonial fabric of Canada beginning in the 1800s.
The City of St. Catharines also decided to cancel Canada Day activities, while any planned activities in Caledonia were cancelled this past April due to the Covid-19 pandemic and restrictions on gatherings. The City of Hamilton has invited residents to celebrate virtually but there will be no in-person festivities on July 1 due to gathering restrictions. The city made no mention of honouring residential school victims on Canada Day.
In the meantime, Six Nations is finalizing plans to search of the grounds of the former Mohawk Institute using ground-penetrating radar, with funding from both the federal and provincial governments and input from Six Nations residential school survivors.
Indigenous people and allies are holding numerous events across the region and country on July 1 to commemorate residential school victims and survivors.
The City of Toronto will light the CN Tower orange on July 1.
In Brantford, a Cancel Canada Day – No Pride in Genocide event is planned at Mohawk Park at 2 p.m. Another group is meeting at 11 a.m. at the Brantford Civic Centre and marching to the Mohawk Institute. In Caledonia, a round dance is planned for 5 p.m. at Edinburgh Square. And in Guelph, a group is hosting Cancel Canada Day: Solidarity With Indigenous People at 2 p.m. at Basilica of Our Lady Immaculate church.