N.L. groups stand behind Cancel Canada Day movement with own gathering planned for July 1

Indigenous Rights activist group Idle No More plans to mark the occasion of Canada's 154th by honouring "Indigenous lives, Black Lives, Migrant lives, Women and Trans and 2Spirit lives."

Organizations say day of mourning, reckoning long overdue

Robert Leamon says it's important that Indigenous voices be centered in discussions related to their history, culture and rights. (Emma Grunwald/CBC)

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

Organizations are pushing for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to devote the Canada Day holiday to reflecting on the history of the country's Indigenous peoples.

Speaking to CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show, Robert Leamon of the Social Justice Co-op of Newfoundland and Labrador said the recent discoveries of remains near the sites of former residential schools in Saskatchewan and British Columbia are proof a day of reckoning is long overdue.

"This is what Canada has been built on," he said. "We refuse to celebrate that genocide and unjust, illegal occupation of Indigenous lands by the Canadian state that keeps leading to these types of confirmations and stories."

Leamon said the #CancelCanadaDay movement aims to initiate conversations about mourning, reflection and meaningful action. Those wishing to take part should be sure to inform themselves on the country's history of violence and genocide against Indigenous peoples, he said.

To help in that education, a gathering is organized for 1 p.m. on Thursday at the Colonial Building on Military Road in St. John's. 

"We're going to be calling on Indigenous water, land and sky protectors and any of our allies, partners and supporters to really show up in solidarity, not only with us as organizations, not only with us as local organizers, but with all Indigenous peoples," Leamon said.

Felt squares honouring victims of a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C., are affixed to the fence of the Colonial Building, the planned site of a July 1 #CancelCanadaDay gathering. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

Delores Mullings, a professor of social work at Memorial University with a focus on race and social justice, said she supports any Indigenous person calling for the cancellation. Mullings spoke with CBC News on behalf of the Anti-Racism Coalition NL. 

Nobody but the families themselves has any idea what they are going through right now, she said.

"If somebody you loved was lost and presumed dead, and their bodies turned up, would you continue with a party? That's a really good question for all of us to grapple with, because my guess is most of us would not be interested in having any kind of party," she said.

"How can we have a party when we are finding confirmation that children that were taken from their homes and were never returned, their bodies are now turning up?"

Delores Mullings, a professor of social work at Memorial University, says she supports any Indigenous person calling for the cancellation of Canada Day. (Emma Grunwald/CBC)

Leamon noted Newfoundland and Labrador has yet to issue an apology regarding the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

"We need to have this conversation. We need to actually stop for a moment and really unpack the history of what's happening here and how is still impacting us in very real time," he said. 

The #CancelCanadaDay campaign was initiated by Idle No More, a continent-wide Indigenous rights organization that started in 2012. 

Leamon expressed his support for the movement in a press release issued Friday morning which was co-signed by Indigenous Activist Collective, Anti-Racism Coalition NL and the N.L. chapter of Black Lives Matter.

Municipalities weigh in

Corner Brook Mayor Jim Parsons said he understands why many in the community wouldn't be in the mood to have a party this July 1.

"It's a time right now where everyone is upset, understandably," he said. "It's heartbreaking and it's sad, but frustrating as well."

Parsons said he had a "good conversation" with Chief Brendan Mitchell of the Qalipu First Nation about how to celebrate being Canadian while reckoning with atrocities past and present. He said due to COVID-19 restrictions, July 1 will be a "muted" affair this year, though the wreath laying to honour the fallen soldiers at Beaumont Hamel will go ahead as usual.

A shoe display in Toronto commemorates victims of Canada's residential school system. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

"I think that we have to balance our approach in our community," he said. "We need to celebrate. We need to reflect. We need to find the commonality now more than ever. And I think we both share that opinion right now."

In an email to CBC News, a spokesperson for the Town of Grand Falls-Windsor expressed grief over the recent news of remains being found at the site of former residential schools.

"Our hearts are with our Indigenous communities," reads the email.

For now, COVID-19 protocols prevent the town from planning any large events.

A spokesperson for the City of St. John's said the city will be taking the federal government's lead on Canada Day.

No fireworks or in-person events are planned at the moment, said the spokesperson, but details on a "reduced plan" will come next week.

Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools, and those who are triggered by these reports.

A national Indian Residential School crisis line has been set up to provide support for residential school survivors and others affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour line: 1-866-925-4419.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from the St. John's Morning Show, Lukas Wall and Henrike Wilhelm