Warning: The following report contains descriptions of genocide and violence committed against Indigenous children and communities. If you require support, the National Indian Residential School Crisis Line can be reached 24 hours a day by calling 1-866-925-4419.
Instead of the typical red and white on July 1, Yellowknife streets were filled with orange on Thursday as the city mourned ongoing discoveries at former residential school sites.
Hundreds of residents gathered outside the Ruth Inch Memorial Pool to march through the downtown core before joining a fire-feeding ceremony at Somba K’e Park, hosted by the Yellowknives Dene First Nation and the City of Yellowknife.
Kaitlyn White-Keyes organized Thursday’s march.
She told Cabin Radio she originally intended to have a float in the annual Canada Day parade that celebrated Indigenous resiliency. When the Rotary Club cancelled the parade, White-Keyes decided to organize a march in its place.
“It’s to honour the children that have recently been recovered, but it’s also for the children that are here today,” she explained. “I don’t think it’s right that we still, in this day and age, have Mounties celebrating walking through our streets.
“That isn’t a part of Canada I want celebrated any more, and I hope that today and from here out, things change, and we start to really focus on reconciliation and what that can mean for the community and the individual people that those truths affect.”
Speaking to the crowd through a megaphone before the march, White-Keyes expressed her own grief.
“As happy and as proud as I am to see you all here, I am filled with the same anger and sadness that we are all trying to come to terms with right now,” she said. “I think this demonstration will really show the people in power.
“I think you should look around at the councillors and the ministers that are standing among you and, when it comes time for voting, these are the people that we need in power, because these are the people that care about our resiliency.”
‘Hug your child’
Over the past few months, nearly 2,000 unmarked graves have been found at former residential school sites.
Among them, the Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan announced last Thursday it had found 751 such graves near the site of the Marieval Indian Residential School. Earlier, 215 children were found buried at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. Another 182 graves were found at the St Eugene’s Mission School near Cranbrook, BC, on Wednesday.
In Somba K’e, the Yellowknives Dene Drummers offered prayers and drumming while attendees fed the fire in memory of children who never made it back to their families.
“Everything has changed since the time immemorial that our ancestors are so used to,” said Yellowknives Dene Chief Edward Sangris before leading a drum prayer.
“Now, we’re having difficulty living with each other. That has to change.
“Our ancestors have always said through the purge of the drum is a powerful thing to help people heal … and I think it’s time we all get together and help each other and try to understand what is happening.”
Yellowknife Mayor Rebecca Alty encouraged residents to learn about the history, culture, and knowledge of Indigenous peoples while acknowledging the territory they stand on.
“As we know, our country was built and developed through many racist programs and policies,” she said, “and we know systemic racism is still present. We all have a duty and responsibility to learn about the truth and legacy that is part of our country’s history.
“Today and for every day going forward, I hope you will join us as we focus on learning the true history of our country, celebrating Indigenous history and culture, and committing to work together toward reconciliation and building a country we can all be proud of.”
Dene Elder Paul Andrew spoke about the power of healing and forgiveness.
“I often think about my aunts who never came home,” he said. “I never met them. My grandparents never knew what happened to their daughters. My dad never knew what happened to his sisters, and that makes me angry and sad – but I know I cannot stay there.
“I wish you well, I wish you songs, I wish you peace. Hug your child.”