Shadow of residential schools looms over Canada Day
Calgarians braved the heat and gathered across the city on Canada Day, with emotions running the gamut from celebratory to mournful.
The holiday coincided with the first day of lifted public-health restrictions as Alberta entered Stage 3 of its reopening plan, with nearly 73 per cent of Albertans immunized with at least one vaccine shot against COVID-19.
But it also came following the discovery of more than 1,100 unmarked graves at the sites of three former residential schools in British Columbia and Saskatchewan.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney made appearances at several Canada Day events in Calgary on Thursday, including a parade through the southeast community of Parkland. Kenney drove a blue Dodge Ram pickup truck in the parade, the same type of vehicle he drove across the province while campaigning first for leadership of the United Conservative Party and later in the 2019 provincial election.
The premier climbed onto the flatbed of the truck to deliver a short speech to a crowd at the Parkland Community Association following the parade. He thanked Indigenous Albertans, veterans and all those who rolled up their sleeves to be immunized.
“Alberta is open, open for summer,” said Kenney, standing in front of a sign reading, `Thank you Alberta!'
“Thanks to your diligence, we are leading Canada as the first province in Canada that is fully open ... God bless you all, God bless Alberta, God bless Canada, happy Canada Day.”
A small number of people heckled Kenney throughout the speech, criticizing the premier for allowing COVID-19 restrictions to continue until now. Kenney put his arm around supporters at the event and shook their hands, actions that would have been prohibited by public-health orders only hours earlier.
About 300 people attended the event. One of them was Bill Jacobson, who wore an orange shirt reading `Every child matters' to recognize Indigenous children who died at residential schools. He said he wanted to raise his concerns over Alberta's draft social studies curriculum, which has faced extensive criticism.
“A good part of that has to do with the very Western-european-centric nature of that curriculum,” Jacobson said.
“I have no problem with people celebrating. But for a lot of people, today is a day of reflection, and that's healthy as well.”
Pastor Kobby Saah with the Christ Embassy Calgary Church also attended with his congregation, to celebrate the holiday and share his faith. He said lifted COVID-19 restrictions are meaningful for his church to resume full gatherings.
“This is a monumental day, the nation celebrating its independence,” Saah said. “Without the lifted restrictions, we wouldn't have been able to come out today.”
A more mournful tone permeated other city events Thursday.
The Urban Society for Aboriginal Youth held the Remembering Our Children vigil at Prince's Island Park to recognize Indigenous children who were victims of Canada's residential school system.
Last week, Saskatchewan's Cowessess First Nation said they had detected an estimated 751 unmarked graves at the site of the former Marieval Indian Residential School. In recent weeks, the remains of 215 children were found at a residential school site in Kamloops, B.C., and another 182 unmarked graves were found near the site of a former school in Cranbrook, B.C.
The schools are only three of the more than 130 that operated in Canada between 1831 and 1996.
Blackfoot Elder Duane Mistaken Chief said at the vigil the legacy of residential schools has left behind intergenerational trauma for Indigenous people in Canada and Alberta.
“Our identities were stripped away from us ... I'm one of the lucky ones. I ran away, I was never brought back, and I'm thankful for that,” Mistaken Chief said, before singing a song to honour Indigenous youth who did not return home.
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi also spoke at the event.
“On this day, and every day forward, we must stand together as a city and nation, committed to a future that takes action against racism and discrimination,” Nenshi said.
The Calgary Tower and Mcmahon Stadium were among buildings to be lit in orange Thursday evening to recognize the legacy of residential schools.
Though no large Canada Day civic event was scheduled, the city planned fireworks at 11 p.m., following a moment of silence broadcast on CJSW 90.9.