Thousands gather in Montreal on Canada Day to 'acknowledge genocide of Indigenous people'
'It's not a day of celebration. For us, it's a day of mourning,' says Tammy Whitebean
Thousands of people gathered in Montreal's Jeanne-Mance park on Thursday not to celebrate Canada Day, but instead to denounce the country's legacy of residential schools.
Several cities across the country cancelled Canada Day celebrations completely, with events also held in places like Quebec City and Saguenay.
Among those who spoke in Montreal was Denis Saganash, who said his father had a brother who never came home from residential school in the James Bay region.
"I'd really like him to come back home," said Saganash, who spoke through an interpreter.
He called on others to "to understand and feel our sadness, our pain for all the children who didn't come back home."
Tammy Whitebean, who helped organize a rolling blockade in Kahnawake, told CBC's Daybreak that the event was open to anyone who wants to join as it "shows us that we do have people who care, who are going to acknowledge the genocide of Indigenous people."
It's a way others can show solidarity, she said.
Whitebean said that, given the discoveries of unmarked graves at residential school sites that have come to light in the last few months, people need to take this day to grieve and acknowledge what happened.
- Do you have information about residential schools? Email your tips to WhereAreThey@cbc.ca.
"This is a lot of babies who never got the chance to grow up," she said. "They weren't schools because schools have playgrounds. These are prison camps because they had graves."
WATCH | Scenes from the gathering in Montreal:
She said people in her community and across the country have not forgotten these tragic events and "will never get over it."
"It's not a day for celebration. For us, it's a day of mourning," said Whitebean.
'Our hearts are certainly not in Canada Day celebrations'
In a news release, Native Women's Shelter of Montreal director Nakuset, who helped organize the march in Montreal, said she feels the impact of the bodies being discovered personally.
"My mother went to residential school in Saskatchewan; those children could be my relatives. We are organizing this gathering as a space to come together, share our pain and grief, and gain strength from the wisdom of our elders," she said in a statement.
She said anyone who is celebrating Canada on July 1 is celebrating oppression.
"The policy of residential schools was to remove children far away from their communities so that they couldn't run away; the multi-layers of cover-up of crimes is astounding," Nakuset said.
In Quebec City, the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador (AFNQL) organized a march and a vigil in memory of those who died, survivors and their descendants.
"Our hearts are certainly not in Canada Day celebrations," said AFNQL Chief Ghislain Picard.
"We invite everyone to mobilize to highlight the importance of paying our respects and offering all our support to our sister nations who are going through extremely difficult times."
On Thursday, Grand Chief Serge Otsi Simon of the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake, put out a statement in support of the AFNQL's event.
"The proof that Canada has not been a very good friend to First Nations has been known to our people for a very long time. This past month, Canadians and the whole world have unearthed and found undeniable proof of the tragedies our people have been through and known about for a very long time," Simon wrote.
"For too long have the spirits of those children buried at those factories of shame demanded of us to seek justice for them and those who survived to live as a testimony of this country's dishonour."
Simon issued an appeal to people not to celebrate or engage in festive activities this July 1.
"Under the present circumstances, dancing and fireworks would not only be disrespectful and a sign of a lack of remorse, but insensitive to our people and distasteful to the world."
The flag that flies above the National Assembly in Quebec City is at half mast today, in solidarity with Indigenous people.
With files from CBC Daybreak, Shuyee Lee and Radio-Canada