Nearly a thousand people gathered at the Peace and Friendship Park in Halifax, N.S., to honour those who died in the former Indian Residential School system and those who survived the experience.
“I initially looked out to see if there were community members doing something for us to be together, because we do better together and we heal well together,” said Caitlyn Moore, organizer of the Halifax Memorial Walk.
For many in attendance at the rally, this year didn’t feel like a time to gather and celebrate Canada Day, in light of recent discoveries of hundreds of unmarked graves at residential schools in B.C. and Saskatchewan.
Because of the pandemic, the Halifax regional municipality said there weren’t any Canada Day events planned this year. Moore said the Halifax Memorial Walk grew out of that void and came together organically for everyone to take part in.
“It wasn’t the intention of being only Indigenous people,” said Moore. “We love our allies coming out and standing with us and being together in solidarity. That’s where reconciliation is going to begin.”
There we several speakers at the rally along with an art installation called “Pause, Reflect & Create” which was organized by Kayla Bernard. It asked those at the rally for their thoughts and reflections on the relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians, with the hope to help educate and inspire change.
“I know a lot of folks, mostly settlers were really looking for ways to interact and reflect with Canada Day and I wanted to create a space for them to reflect without further burdening Indigenous people,” said Bernard. She said her grandparents attended the Shubenacadie Indian Residential School, which deeply impacted her and her family’s lives.
“This year it’s especially important to pause and reflect on a day like July 1st, because without really taking time to pause and reflect and to analyze what has happened we can’t hope for change,” said Bernard. “Because we are bombarded with so much stuff, it slips a lot of peoples minds and it doesn’t slip Indigenous peoples minds, this is something we’ve known for years and impacts our families for generations, so we really need everybody to reflect if we ever want change in Canada.”
Following the rally in the park, hundreds of people, mostly all dressed in orange shirts, took to the streets and marched their way down to the Halifax Waterfront.
A ground search of the former Shubenacadie Residential School continues as anthropologist Jonathan Fowler, an associate professor at Saint Mary’s University and co-investigator Roger Lewis, curator of Mi’kmaq Cultural Heritage at the Nova Scotia Museum, began its ground-penetrating radar search at the site in early June.
The Shubenacadie Residential School operated from 1929 until 1967 and was the only Indigenous residential school in the Maritimes. It’s anticipated the ground search could be completed by the end of next week, but no updates have been shared at this point.