THUNDER BAY – A call for change echoed through a sea of orange that marched through Thunder Bay’s downtown north core on Thursday, an Cancel Canada Day rally supplanting the usual cascade of red and white and fireworks that usher in the country’s July 1 birthday each year.
The march, which saw about 450 people take part, was organized as a replacement for Canada Day festivities, in the wake of the discovery of hundreds bodies of Indigenous children discovered recently in unmarked graves at residential schools across the nation.
It’s not the time to celebrate a country with such a history of mistreatment and abuse of First Nations peoples, said artist Michel Dumont, an organizer of Thursday’s rally.
“More people understand that this year might not be the year to celebrate with such a fervent patriotism. Right now is a time for reflection,” Dumont said.
“What’s fascinating to see is Canada Day celebrations are more muted and toned down, if not completely cancelled. I’m quite pleased to see all the orange shirts today. It’s wonderful to see the ally-ship and the support.”
Cynthia Nault carried a drum and help put together the Anti-Canada rally, one of dozens held across the country on Thursday.
Nault said Canada’s foundation was built on the oppression, displacement and land theft of Indigenous peoples and it’s time the citizenry to take time to reflect on just what that’s meant to her people and the pain and trauma that’s been caused throughout the generations, including the residential school era, which is still impacting First Nations communities and people to this very day.
“It’s really hard for me to see people celebrating that,” she said. “It’s really hard for me to see people having picnics and fireworks, especially when so many people are grieving, (particularly) right now with all the recoveries that are happening all across Turtle Island.”
Last month Canadians were shocked to learn about the discovery of 215 bodies on the grounds of a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.
This week ground penetrating radar detected 751 bodies buried at a former residential school in Saskatchewan. Another 182 bodies were then discovered on Ktunaxa Nation territory in British Columbia.
Nault said it’s important for people to listen and learn about their country’s past. It's the only way to find a path forward that includes everyone.
“I think that Canada as a nation and Canadians have to do some serious work and decide going forward how they want to live with First Nations people. First Nation’s people have been here longer than Canada and our relationship as peoples used to be a lot better,” she said.
“I’d like to see us getting back to that type of relationship where we live together.”
It’s sad that it took the discovery of the buried bodies to start opening the country’s eyes. Nault, an optimist, is hopeful it will finally spur the change that’s needed.
“I certainly hope that it is (the turning point). I like to be optimistic. I don’t know how many people are actually waking up to the reality of what’s going on, but I do hope that it’s most people,” Nault said.
“Going forward I’d like to see Canadians respecting the wishes of Indigenous peoples.”
Thunder Bay was one of dozens of communities in Canada that cancelled planned Canada Day celebrations out of respect for the country’s Indigenous population.