Calgary’s mayor says the city’s skyline will be lit in orange on July 1 as a way to honour the victims of Canada’s residential school system.
Naheed Nenshi told reporters Tuesday that there is ongoing work with Indigenous leaders to develop ways to include more Indigenous culture during Thursday’s celebrations.
“There will be, I think, a really quite meaningful lighting of Calgary in orange through the day on Canada Day, and in particular, as a backdrop to the fireworks,” Nenshi said.
“I really do encourage people to tune in just before the fireworks at 11 p.m. You’ll hear from me, you’ll hear from Indigenous folks, you’ll hear from an elder.”
However, there are calls to scale back and cancel celebrations following the recent discoveries of unmarked graves at six residential schools, including the remains of 215 children in Kamloops B.C. and an estimated 751 bodies at a residential school on Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan.
Nenshi is receiving criticism that one of the elders consulted for the city’s celebrations was not in agreement about moving forward with the fireworks and other events.
“Indigenous people in the province of Alberta and the city of Calgary were hoping that Mayor Nenshi would have cancelled Canada Day celebrations outright as an opportunity for mainstream Calgarians to take to pause and take some time and have an opportunity to reflect on the atrocities of the Indigenous people in Canada,” said Adam North-Peigan, president of the Sixties Scoop Indigenous Society of Alberta.
Calgary’s mayor defended the decision to move forward with the celebrations and said all voices at the table were included in the decision.
“People in the room were generous in spirit, and even those who said, ‘I will not be celebrating Canada Day,’ did not say you should not,” Nenshi said.
There will be several events taking place across the city on Thursday, although none will be part of Canada Day celebrations. A tipi using materials from the Pikani First Nation will be erected near the confluence of the Bow and Elbow rivers at Fort Calgary on Thursday morning.
Organizers said the healing camp is open to all and will include ceremonies and songs with Indigenous elders to honour victims of the residential school system.
“So having a safe space in Mohkínstsis, in Calgary, where we’re able to pray and be with our elders and with our community in a safe way,” community organizer Tapisa Kilabuk said. “Collectively, we are in this all together, and it’s important to have non-Indigenous folks be a part of this process as it’s their community too.”
Later that evening, a pop-up concert featuring Indigenous artists Wendy Walker and Curt Young will take place in Bridgeland.
Walker said music is key in the healing process and an important part of Indigenous culture.
“In my opinion, we’re not cancelling; we’re gathering to mourn,” Walker told Global News. “Because if it was your neighbour and their child had died, would you be celebrating?”
According to organizer Nicole Johnston, the hope is to educate amid emerging divisiveness towards the sentiment of scaling back celebrations.
“I want to start educating the public on who we are,” Johnston said. “We’re not savages like they used to call us. We’re not these bad names that they gave us. We’re humans, we’re beings, we love unconditionally, so we can work together.”
There will also be a vigil for residential school victims at Prince’s Island Park on Thursday morning.
Indigenous activist Michelle Robinson said she hopes Calgarians take some time to attend events in the city on July 1.
Robinson said there is no reconciliation without truth, and that is why she feels education on the past is important.
“It’s very important that Indigenous lead Indigenous events but that Canadians see themselves as part of being the solution to all of this,” Robinson said.