Indigenous advocates call for cancellation of fireworks as city preps for Canada Day

 Thousands of Calgarians are ready to ring in Canada’s 155th birthday as festivities are set to be held across the city, but not everyone is calling this a ‘celebration.’

“It’s time for change,” said Nicole Johnston, an advocate for Indigenous people.

“I’d like to see Canada Day abolished and I don’t mean it in a negative way. Let’s change this day where we can really include everyone and move forward from the past.”

Johnston is a member of the Piikani Nation who suffered traumas as a day school student at an Anglican Church in the 1970s.

She’s holding a Justice for Indigenous Walk that begins in front of city hall at 4 p.m. Friday. Orange balloons will be released to commemorate the thousands of children who died as a result of Canada’s Residential School system.

“We don't see people celebrating, what we see are people celebrating on stolen lands, the genocide that took place here,” Johnston added.

However, not all Indigenous people want to see fireworks cancelled for Canada Day.

Jason Plain Eagle, who is a teacher of several Indigenous culture programs, was setting up a teepee at Fort Calgary on Thursday and is looking forward to having everyone gather for the big day.

“Residential schools were a bad thing that happened to my people, but we always have to move forward,” he said.

“Fireworks make people happy so I think it's a good thing that we celebrate as well as recognize that the kids are lost. I'm glad that we’re starting to finally recognize the traumas of residential schools and bring it home so we have to work through that right.”

The fireworks display is set for 11 p.m. from city hall, which will include a blessing from Stoney Nakoda Elder Cindy Daniels, a message from Jyoti Gondek and a moment of silence for the loss of Indigenous lives.

Jennifer Thompson, manager of arts and culture for the City of Calgary, said the event will be livestreamed on the city’s website.

She added however that Indigenous culture is a main focus for this year’s Canada Day.

“We really want to highlight Truth and Reconciliation, so starting at 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Fort Calgary there will be an Indigenous showcase, a powwow and a ton of chats around the residential school sites and those traumatic experiences,” said Thompson.

“The fireworks were decided to keep going, but for future planning for Canada Day, the city really wants to have a conversation with Calgarians about what it could like in the future. Should we be having fireworks? Should we be having other types of programming that maybe we haven't had (in the past)?"

Thompson added that the city will be having discussions on fireworks for next year’s Canada Day within the next six months.