Hundreds stand with Indigenous community on Canada Day in Charlottetown
'It's things like this which change the future,' says Abegweit First Nation Chief Junior Gould
WARNING: This story contains distressing details.
One by one, people began arriving at the Charlottetown Event Grounds on Thursday. Within a half hour, hundreds had poured in, but they didn't wear red to honour Canada. Instead, the majority dressed in orange to stand in solidarity with the Indigenous community.
"Just by being here and wearing an orange shirt, it shows that they get it," said Abegweit First Nation Chief Junior Gould.
"They understand that the conversation has to happen and I hope that they go back and they break the silence."
Cities across the country are marking Canada Day differently this year following the discovery of unmarked graves near former residential schools in B.C. and Saskatchewan.
"We have to have the belief that our children can do better than we did," said Gould.
"I believe education is the key to that."
Gould said he hopes people take time to reflect, ask questions and learn.
"It's things like this which change the future," he said.
'We're not silenced anymore,' says Mi'kmaw elder
In the P.E.I. capital, the day began with drumming, community members singing, children dancing and many having the chance to learn more about Indigenous culture on the Island.
"The community here is representing that we're not silenced anymore," said Mi'kmaw elder Junior Peter-Paul.
"We're here to teach them, to make them understand ... that, you know, we're human beings."
A flag ceremony also took place Thursday morning.
For some time, two Canada flags surrounded the City of Charlottetown sign.
One has since been removed and replaced with the Mi'kmaq First Nations flag. Now the two fly alongside each other, both currently lowered to half-staff.
"My father passed away three years ago and he was a residential school survivor," said Gould.
"If my father was here right now, he would be crying to see the Mi'kmaw flag flying."
Charlottetown Mayor Phillip Brown said that flag will continue to fly high for years to come.
"The provincial flags are up here, the Canadian flag and the Mi'kmaq First Nations is a part of our great society, so it's up there to stay," he said.
The ceremony was meant as a way to remember, reflect and recognize the nation's past, said Brown.
And while it was a step in the right direction, he knows there is still work to be done.
"We have a lot to be proud of, but today is in memory, in recognizing that our past is not always full of all joy and celebration," he said.
"There have been some past wrongs. We have to change."
Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools, and those who are triggered by the latest reports.
A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for survivors and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.