Jessica Symons is willing to try anything to make a difference.
Draped in a Canadian flag and a sun hat – with a sign that read “hold the church accountable for the Indigenous holocaust” Symons sat at the corner of 50th Street and Little Gaetz Avenue for five hours on Canada Day, all in the name of bringing awareness to injustices perpetrated against indigenous people.
“I feel like even though I’m White, it’s important to have compassion for people. We need to recognize their struggles and take accountability. It’s time for us to stand up,” said the Red Deer resident, who sat downtown next to the statue of Reverend Leonard Gaetz and made it clear she had nothing to do with the vandalism of the statue.
Although not Indigenous herself, Symons said the horrifying discovery of unmarked graves of children hit hard, including 215 in Kamloops, upwards of 751 at the Marieval Indian Residential School site Saskatchewan and recently 182 more near Cranbrook.
“I felt sick to my stomach. It was disgusting to hear that. We’re all human and we all should be treated equally,” she said.
Thousands attended rallies and remember the youth events in Edmonton and Calgary on Canada Day and similar ones were held across the country – as people grappled with mixed feelings of Canada’s history.
“Even as I was speaking with people who chose to wear red and white yesterday instead of orange they were reflecting on how their fellow citizens are hurting, how we need to respect and understand that not everyone felt like celebrating yesterday,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday.
“Celebrating was the last thing on the minds of many many people in this country for whom we need to do better.”
Symons explained she was largely supported by passersby on Thursday, with some honking and others waving their orange shirts, which is a symbol of hope and reconciliation.
“It’s just sick what the church has done to the Indigenous community, through the residential schools and I just feel like they need someone to stand up for them,” said an emotional Symons.
“Everyone is celebrating Canada Day, nobody is talking about all these dead children that are showing up. No one is talking about the 80,000 survivors and their stories. It’s so important… have some compassion, we’re all human.”
Symons grew up in Canada, never quite knowing or hearing about the residential school system. It was only when she moved to the United States that she learned about the struggles of Indigenous people. Since her return, she’s tried her best to understand and help foster change.
“I was shocked, I was like that’s my country. There’s no way. I looked it up and it was all true,” she said.
Ultimately, she hopes politicians will start to pay attention and move forward with more meaningful action and less talk.
“I think we’re just waiting for people to own up to what they did. For the church to take accountability– we’re trying to get the pope to at least apologize and nothing has been done,” she said.
With files from the Canadian Press