Prime Minister Justin Trudeau struck a different tone in his Canada Day statement this year, as the country reels from the discovery of over 1,100 unmarked graves across three former residential school sites in Canada.
In the statement, Trudeau acknowledged that for some, July 1 is “not yet a day of celebration.”
“The horrific findings of the remains of hundreds of children at the sites of former residential schools in British Columbia and Saskatchewan have rightfully pressed us to reflect on our country’s historical failures, and the injustices that still exist for Indigenous peoples and many others in Canada,” Trudeau said.
“We as Canadians must be honest with ourselves about our past.”
Last week, Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan said that a ground-penetrating radar detected an estimated 751 unmarked graves at the site where the Marieval Indian Residential School once sat. The news came not long after the remains of 215 children were found at another former residential school site in Kamloops.
Just one day before Canada was set to celebrate its national pride on July 1, the Lower Kootenay Band said a search using the same ground-penetrating radar technology found 182 human remains in unmarked graves near a former residential school site in Cranbrook, B.C.
182 unmarked graves found near Cranbrook, B.C. residential school on eve of Canada Day
As communities and families reel from the news, some advocates have called on Canadians to hold off on the fireworks and fanfare for Canada Day this year.
“The recent discovery at Kamloops residential school has reminded us that Canada remains a country that has built its foundation on the erasure and genocide of Indigenous nations, including children,” read a post on Indigenous rights group Idle No More’s website.
“We refuse to sit idle while Canada’s violent history is celebrated.”
The government has faced questions about whether Canada’s government-run celebrations should still take place, given the dark discoveries that marked recent days and weeks.
Canadian Heritage is still holding its virtual Canada Day events, including an online concert featuring French, English and Indigenous musicians. However, as those events kick-off, the flag on the Peace Tower in Ottawa will sit at half-mast in recognition of the Indigenous children who died in residential schools across the country.
Trudeau has said he plans to spend the day celebrating with his family. His agenda also lists a closed-door meeting today with Phyllis Webstad, who is the founder of Orange Shirt Day — a national day of remembrance for victims of the residential school system.
National Chief Bellegarde comments on residential school unmarked graves discovery near B.C.
In his Thursday statement, the prime minister also highlighted Canada’s accomplishments in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The pandemic has changed our daily lives, taught us hard lessons, and kept us apart. But through this challenge and crisis, Canadians were there for each other. We all — young and old — made personal sacrifices to help keep our communities safe and healthy,” he said.
“We put signs in our windows and banged pots and pans for our front-line health care workers. We ordered takeout and shopped at our local small businesses. And once vaccines became available, we got our shots as soon as possible, so our communities could return to normal.”
He said that today, Canadians can reflect on our accomplishments, while also looking forward to “what more we have to do.”
“This Canada Day, let’s recommit to learning from and listening to each other so we can break down the barriers that divide us, rectify the injustices of our past, and build a more fair and equitable society for everyone,” Trudeau said.
“Together, we will roll up our sleeves and do the hard work that is necessary to build a better Canada.”
— With files from The Canadian Press
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