People mark National Day for Truth and Reconciliation with events across Quebec

Throughout the province of Quebec, people gathered in communities to commemorate the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Indigenous leaders say it's important to acknowledge what happened, as Quebecers reckon with the past.

Indigenous leaders say it's important to acknowledge what happened, as Quebecers reckon with the past

People in Montreal gathered at Place du Canada on Thursday afternoon for a commemorative march and ceremony to mark the first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

On the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, people gathered in communities across the province to commemorate and recognize Canada's legacy of residential schools.

Quebec's minister responsible for Indigenous affairs, Ian Lafrenière, attended an event organized by the Innu community of Uashat mak Mani-utenam at the site of the former residential school of Mani-utenam, Que., near Sept-Îles.

Dozens of people wearing orange shirts were in attendance, as the day unfolded with speeches and prayers from members of the community.

In Montreal, hundreds of people came out to take part in the commemorative march. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Addressing the crowd, Lafrenière said Quebecers must take the time to learn about what happened in residential schools and to get informed about the impact on Indigenous people to this day.

"We can't forget Joyce Echaquan who died in horrible circumstances," he said Thursday morning. "We can't forget the survivors, the victims of the residential schools."

"This week we have a duty to remember."

Ian Lafrenière attended an event organized by the Innu community of Uashat mak Mani-utenam for the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on Thursday. (Radio-Canada)

Reconciliation is not just a political issue and has to happen at all levels, said Mike McKenzie, chief of the Innu nation of Uashat mak Mani-utenam.

"The first step to achieving reconciliation is the truth, a truth that needs to be acknowledged and taught," he said.

Innu Nation finds pride in its resilience

Naomi Fontaine, who was one of the moderators of the event in Uashat mak Mani-utenam, said that Innu people can feel proud that they are still standing after despite colonizers' attempts to erase their language and culture.

"Today is also a day to celebrate the resilience of our culture," she said.

Sept-Îles Mayor Réjean Porlier said that facing the truth may be uncomfortable, but it's necessary to dismantling the racism that still exists against Indigenous people today.

"We don't always want to look at ourselves in the mirror and ask ourselves if we did the right thing," he said.

Across the province, there were events to mark the day.

Hundreds of people, including students and community members, gathered in front of Bishop's University in Sherbrooke before marching to Centennial park.

In Gaspésie, the Mi'kmaq of Gespeg and Gesgapegiag also commemorated the day with marches.

Children at a school in Wendake marked the day by wearing orange and creating a banner with their handprints.

Children at a school in Wendake marked the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. They wore orange T-shirts and made a banner with their handprints. (Hadi Hassin/Radio-Canada)

Students at many schools across the province took part in activities today to learn about the significance of the day.

Quebec's legislature, the National Assembly, will be lit in orange on Thursday evening.

Hundreds march in Montreal

In Montreal, hundreds of people honoured the children found in unmarked graves at residential school sites across the country by attending a commemorative ceremony and then marching from Place du Canada to Place des Arts.

Organized by the Native Women's Shelter and the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador, the event featured Indigenous leaders, rights defenders and youth from Quebec and Labrador communities.

Marchers wore orange and some played drums at the ceremony. 

Nakuset, director of the Native Women's Shelter, told CBC that while the day has been billed by the federal government as an opportunity for reflection, she wants to see more concrete action than just awareness-raising.

"How does reflection actually help us? It doesn't help us for you to reflect. What would help us is if you show up, if you are moved by what you hear today and if that pushes you into doing some action. That's what we want," she said.

Just south of Montreal, in Kahnawake, the Mohawk Nation of Kahnawà:ke marked the event with a birthday celebration that included presents and cake for survivors.

"It's a birthday party because when we were in residential school there were no birthday parties," said residential school survivor Kakaionstha Deer.

Organizers said they wanted to keep atmosphere light while allowing for reflection, because there had already been so much pain this year with the discovery of unmarked graves.

Residential school survivors in Kahnawake commemorate the day with cakes inscribed with the word "home." (Chloe Ranaldi)

Quebec will not make the day a statutory holiday

Despite calls to make the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation a provincial statutory holiday, the CAQ government has continued to reject the idea.

Premier François Legault nixed the idea at the National Assembly on Thursday, after Québec Solidaire Parliamentary Leader Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois proposed making Sept. 30 a holiday.

The Quebec Liberals and the Parti Québécois said this morning they would be in favour of the idea, but Legault shut the motion down, saying that Quebec already has eight statutory holidays and that adding another would be too "costly".

"Listen, all provinces have a challenge to be competitive and productive. In Quebec, when we look at the number of days, the number of hours worked in a year, we have work to do. So, I think there are many other ways to mark, to commemorate what happened with the residential schools," said Legault.

He added that while some provinces have opted to give people a paid holiday, including Manitoba, Nova Scotia and P.E.I., others, like Ontario, have not.

WATCH | How this Kanien:keha'ka faithkeeper is marking the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation:

How this Kanien:keha'ka faithkeeper is marking the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

11 months ago
Duration 4:55
Ka'nahsohon Kevin Deer is a Kanien:keha'ka faithkeeper from Kahnawake

Federal Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault says he's profoundly disappointed by Legault's remarks.

"I mean, as a Quebecer myself, I am shocked and dismayed by Premier Legault's comments. I think it shows how little empathy he has for the people and families and communities who have been traumatized and are still traumatized by the residential school system."

"I hope that going forward, Premier Legault will be able to show more compassion and understanding for Indigenous people in Quebec and Canada," said Guilbeault.

Alan Gull, who attended the march in Montreal and who has relatives who were in residential schools, said he was hurt by the province's decision not to officially recognize the day as a holiday.

"The day of reconciliation is really, really important to First Nations and it's sad to see the Quebec government not recognizing this day at all," he said. "It's hurtful to a lot of people."

We Know the Truth: Stories to Inspire Reconciliation airs on on CBC Gem. (CBC)

With files from Chloe Ranaldi and Sharon Yonan Renold