An official Canada Day celebration isn’t happening in Red Deer this year — although some July 1 fireworks are in the cards.
Few people are in the mood for celebrating Canada, in light of the recent discovery of 215 unrecorded children’s graves at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, said Delores Coghill, manager of the Red Deer Cultural Heritage Society.
“A lot of people are in mourning — and not just Indigenous people, but everybody.”
The heritage society typically puts on a full day of events at Bower Ponds in Red Deer.
While fireworks will be set off at 11 p.m. on July 1 this year from Westerner Park, Coghill said this is mostly because grants had already been obtained for this purpose.
The bright display can be viewed as a celebration of our heritage — or as a beacon for what our country could become if governments acted to right historic wrongs against Indigenous people, she added.
Some cities, including Victoria, B.C., have entirely cancelled Canada Day celebrations this year.
‘We’re calling ours a July 1 heritage celebration and it will be downplayed,” said Coghill.
Apart from the fireworks, the society is only posting online videos of various local dance groups celebrating multiculturalism. She doesn’t believe many — if any — Indigenous groups will be represented, however, since several pulled out in the aftermath of the Kamloops discovery of children’s graves.
Indigenous elders held a circle meeting in Red Deer recently and decided “at this moment in time, we are not very happy with Canada,” said Lyle Keewatin Richards, a member and an advocate for the local First Nations community.
The Kamloops discovery has “dug up old wounds and mistreatment from the past and they are not very happy with the whole idea of Canada Day,” he added.
First Nations are seeking records to determine which children died at the schools and of what causes. Advocates are demanding the government help find other lost children’s graves at residential school sites — including the one west of Red Deer, which had the worst student mortality rate in the country in the early 1900s. Students at the poorly built facility died of various illnesses, including tuberculosis.
Coghill isn’t sure what Canada Day will mean in years to come, but she believes our country’s past will be viewed through a different lens going forward.
Perhaps government departments that fund Canada Day festivities should broaden the parameters for how this money is spent by communities in future, Coghill added. “Maybe they need to change their mindset a bit.”
Keewatin Richards believes “Canada Day has always had a taint, but more people now know about it.” All the same, he believes some kind of reconciliation with the past will have to come because “for better or worse, we are all part of one country now, pimples and all.”
He can still remember a massive round dance that was held by the whole community at a past Canada Day celebration at Bower Ponds. He recalls 800 or 900 people participated in 2000.
“That kind of thing sends a powerful message, and it was (danced) by everybody.”