“Understanding that this Canada Day comes at a time of renewed reckoning with our history, I urge Edmontonians to come together to ensure that every single person in this country is welcomed, accepted and safe,” Mayor Don Iveson said in a news release issued Tuesday evening.
The city made the request one day before the announcement that another 182 human remains were found at a former residential school site.
The Lower Kootenay Band confirmed Wednesday that ground-penetrating radar revealed the human remains in unmarked graves at the site of the old St. Eugene’s Mission Residential School in Cranbrook, B.C.
The finding follows the discovery of the estimated remains of 215 children at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops and an estimated 751 unmarked graves at the site of the Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan.
“This year, in the tail end of this pandemic and when horrors from our past are at the forefront of our minds, let’s move forward together to build a stronger, more diverse and more inclusive country,” Iveson said.
Edmonton’s mayor said the city reached out to the Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations to get its guidance on how to mark the country’s birthday in light of the findings.
“We were clearly urged to take a sombre and reflective tone,” Iveson explained.
“I hope that Edmontonians will hold all that is wrong and painful and unjust — and also hold what we yet want to be as Canadians — in our hearts, however each of us chooses to mark a much more solemn Canada Day.”
In an effort to honour reconciliation, the city will light the Walterdale Bridge, High Level Bridge, city hall and Muttart Conservatory in orange on July 1, 2, 3 and 4. The Rossdale Power Plant will also be orange on Canada Day.
For Cheryl Whiskeyjack, the executive director of the Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society, this is a positive move. She hopes Canadians take the day to learn more about the history of residential schools.
“There’s opportunity to hear from survivors (and) from children of survivors about the legacy of that time in our history and how it impacts us still today,” she said.
“There’s plenty of ways for people to get educated.”
Whiskeyjack said right now, the Indigenous community is in mourning.
“Trauma after trauma,” she said.
“This is like a scab being ripped off week after week for our community, and it just feels a little off to be trying to celebrate the nation during this time when a really dark part of our history is being revealed for all of the world to see.”
Whiskeyjack said it’s up to each person to decide how they mark Canada Day, but she hopes the lives of the lost children will be remembered.
“For many Canadians, they don’t want to hear this, but it needs to be heard,” she said.
“It needs to be felt, it needs to be understood. That’s the way we can move forward.”
Edmonton will continue with its planned fireworks show at 11 p.m. on Thursday.
“We didn’t receive specific guidance around fireworks,” Iveson explained.
City manager Andre Corbould acknowledged this Canada Day is a “difficult time because of the recent findings,” but said July 1 is an opportunity for people to come together and learn about Canada’s Indigenous history.
“I encourage all Edmontonians to take time to support Indigenous Peoples and honour the lives of children who are forever lost, those who survived residential schools, and those whose families continue to mourn as we recommit ourselves to moving towards reconciliation.”
The city also said it is honouring the Truth and Reconciliation report through the implementation of the Indigenous Framework, Memorandums of Understanding and through many partnerships in the community.
The Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program has a hotline to help residential school survivors and their relatives suffering with trauma invoked by the recall of past abuse. The number is 1-866-925-4419.
– With files from Amy Judd, Global News