Keewaywin First Nation in northern Ontario will no longer recognize Canada Day as a celebration and will instead mark it as a “day of mourning” until the federal government investigates the grounds of all former residential schools.
Moving forward, the nation said July 1 will be a day to remember the children and families who were affected by residential schools and to recognize the role that the Canadian government and churches played in the “attempted genocide” of Indigenous People.
“Residential schools were government-sponsored religious schools that were established to assimilate Indigenous children into Euro-Canadian culture,” Keewaywin’s chief and council said in a letter Thursday.
“In total, over 130 residential schools operated in Canada between 1831 and 1996. In 1931, at the height of the residential school system, 80 residential schools were operating across Canada.”
Keewaywin’s decision to no longer celebrate Canada Day comes about two weeks after the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation in Kamloops, B.C. announced that ground-penetrating radar had uncovered the remains of 215 children, some as young as three years old, who were students at the Kamloops Indian Residential School.
Since then, many have expressed public outrage, with experts saying the unmarked burial ground in Kamloops is “the tip of the iceberg.” Several Indigenous groups have also called for the search of all residential school grounds in Canada.
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“In total, an estimated 150,000 First Nation, Inuit and Metis children attended these schools,” Keewaywin’s chief and council said Thursday.
“The Truth and Reconciliation Final Report concluded that a soldier had a better chance of surviving the Second World War than an Indigenous child had at surviving the residential school system.”
More than a week ago, the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Office called on Canada to launch “exhaustive investigations” and “redouble efforts” to find Indigenous children missing from residential schools. UN human rights special rapporteurs also called on Canada and the Catholic Church to conduct prompt and thorough investigations into the findings of the Kamloops burial site.
At a House of Commons meeting on June 1, Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the children found in Kamloops and others who have yet to be found would have been grandparents or great-grandparents.
“They would have been Elders, Knowledge Keepers and community leaders,” he said at the meeting. “They are not, and that is the fault of Canada.”
Anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of their residential school experience can access this 24-hour, toll-free and confidential National Indian Residential School Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419.
— With files from Global News’ Katie Dangerfield, Hannah Jackson, Rachel Gilmore and the Canadian Press