Sudbury

Mushkegowuk Council joins Moose Cree First Nation in Ontario in declaring July 1 as day of mourning

The Mushkegowuk Council, which represents seven Cree First Nations in northern Ontario, has joined Moose Cree First Nation in declaring this July 1 as a day of mourning. 

Canada Day 2021 was also marked differently due to detection of unmarked graves at residential schools

In 2021, community members gathered at the Moose Cree First Nation office in orange shirts, with the Every Child Matters logo. The shirts were meant to reflect on the lives lost in residential schools. This year, Canada Day will again be marked as a time to mourn. (Andy Everson)

The Mushkegowuk Council, which represents seven Cree First Nations in northern Ontario, has joined Moose Cree First Nation in declaring this July 1 as a day of mourning. 

Council chiefs were in talks on Monday and Tuesday to discuss how they would recognize Canada Day in light of the detection of unmarked graves at former residential schools over the past 14 months.

Last July 1 was also approached as a day of mourning and/or marked in ways other than a celebration in various parts of Canada after the detection of unmarked graves at a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C., in May 2021.

On June 22, Moose Cree First Nation became the first of the Mushkegowuk member First Nations this year to decide to mark Canada Day as a time to mourn. 

"My deepest heartfelt thoughts and prayers are with the Indian Residential School survivors and families that are mourning and suffering today," said Mushkegowuk Grand Chief Alison Linklater in a Facebook post on Wednesday afternoon.

"It is very difficult to understand why the precious lives of so many innocent little children were destroyed or ended by the Government of Canada," she said.

Alison Linklater is grand chief of the Mushkegowuk Council. The seven Cree First Nations she represents will recognize July 1 as as day of mourning. (Submitted by Alison Linklater)

Chief Mervin Cheechoo of Moose Cree First Nation said it's inappropriate to celebrate Canada Day, given the past year's revelations. 

"We lost a lot of young people, a lot of children at the residential school, and a lot of them didn't come home," Cheechoo said.

"What we knew finally took place last year — the finding of our children that never came home."

Things have changed since when the graves were found in Kamloops. Many things have changed.— Alison Linklater, Grand Chief of Mushkegowuk Council

Cheecho noted this was not the First Nation's first time marking Canada Day as a day of mourning. He recalled that in 2021, community members gathering at the Moose Cree First Nation office in orange shirts, to reflect on the lives that were lost as well as survivors.

"We did that for 215 days, in commemoration of the 215 that were found at that time last year," Cheechoo said.

"And that's kind of how it's going to look again today."

Moose Cree First Nation Chief Mervin Cheechoo says it's not appropriate to celebrate Canada Day, given the revelations of unmarked graves at residential schools. (Erik White/CBC )

Three of Canada's Indian residential schools were within the cluster of Mushkegowuk First Nations in northeastern Ontario, Linklater said. 

Children from the Mushkegowuk First Nations were forced to go to St. Anne's Indian Residential School in Fort Albany, Ont., the Bishop Horden Residential School on Moose Factory Island and the St. John's Indian Residential School in Chapleau, Ont. 

"The governments of the First Nations where those institutions were located are carefully planning the difficult task of conducting a search for unmarked graves in their communities," Linklater added in a Facebook post. She said plans are still in their initial stages.

As ideas surrounding Canada Day shift and Indigenous communities decide how to mark the day, Linklater said, her hope is Canadians remain respectful and supportive of survivors. 

"Things have changed since when the graves were found in Kamloops. Many things have changed," she said.

"It's about reconciliation, working together and getting back to focusing on our treaties and our treaty rights and being there for one another." 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ashishvangh (ash-eesh-vung) is a reporter/editor for CBC Sudbury, telling stories from across northeastern Ontario. She can be reached at ashishvangh.contractor@cbc.ca or 705 688 3983.

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