‘We shouldn’t be celebrating anything’: Calgarians reflect on residential school tragedies in spirit of reconciliation

Thousands of Calgarians marked Canada’s 154th birthday Thursday by reflecting, listening, and participating in ceremonies to show solidarity with Indigenous peoples.

In the wake of the discovery of thousands of unmarked graves recovered from residential schools, several First Nations groups and supporters gathered Thursday morning for the raising of a tipi at Fort Calgary.

“It’s just putting our home back where we started,” said Yvonne Henderson with Calgary’s Bear Clan Patrol Group. 

“We shouldn’t be celebrating anything, it should be a time where you realize that the bodies of our elders are coming to the surface, that it's a time of honouring those loved before us and moving forward.”

The event, organized by Garret C. Smith with the Piikani Nation saw a couple hundred Calgarians attend and take time to learn about Indigenous culture.

He says his brothers and sister within his community are grieving and adds that more needs to be done within Canada’s education system to teach younger generations the real truth.

“There's over 500 churches here in Calgary, multiple synagogues, mosques and temples but nothing for the First Nations culture to practice our spirituality,” Smith said.

“One of the hardest things Canadians need to do is to recognize what's happening right now and that they're living in a country built on genocide, which in itself is a really hard fact to face.”

Elders like Ruby Eagle Child experienced those hardships first hand when she attended residential school as a young child.

Speaking at Thursday’s event, she spoke of the need for her people to be acknowledged and understood for who they are instead of stereotyped.

“All of this is about the connection we have with each other and we have to understand each other in order to learn.”

VIGIL FOR INDIGENOUS CHILDREN

About a thousand Calgarians gathered at Prince’s Island Park Thursday for the ‘Remembering our Children’ vigil.

Several elders and First Nations members spoke and various dances and musical acts also performed to honour the lives lost in Canada’s residential school system.

The Urban Society of Aboriginal Youth (USAY) organized the event as a way for everyone to show their support and to understand Indigenous culture

“We wanted to come together in a ceremony to heal because Indigenous people value community and bringing people together through events,” said USAY Program Coordinator, Gemini Iron Shirt.

“We need to keep amplifying Indigenous voices, make space for Indigenous youth. to listen, hear our truth and not make any judgements – allow us to grieve over these children.”

USAY also handed out several free Indigenous smudging kits at the event as well as information packages on residential schools and the Sixties Scoop.

FRUSTRATION OVER CANADA DAY FIREWORKS CELEBRATION

As Indigenous people continue to mourn the thousands of lives lost in residential schools, many are displeased with the City of Calgary’s decision to go forward with Canada Firework celebrations.

“It’s really disheartening,” said President of the 60s Scoop Society of Alberta, Adam North Peigan.

“It’s really an act of not reconciling with our people, because if you can imagine that if mainstream Canadians had lost their child and an unmarked grave was found, I don't think that that individual would go out and light off fireworks the very next day.”

Mayor Naheed Nenshi said the move to go ahead with fireworks was a tough decision, noting that a good portion of his week was spent talking to elders and getting to know their understanding.

“The message I really heard was that we don’t want to move forward in division, so even when people are not themselves celebrating Canada Day or they never have, they don’t want to use this as a moment to take things away from others,” Nenshi said.

“We’ll have an elder to give a blessing to explain that the fireworks this year are to honour the children that we’ve lost.”

Nenshi added that in other Asian cultures fireworks are used to scare away evil spirits.

“So that’s how I’m thinking about it – the fireworks are about scaring away evil and lighting our way to an optimistic future for all of us.”