Saik’uz First Nation chief and council will be wearing orange Thursday, July 1 to remember those lost to residential schools and honour the strength of Indigenous people.
The First Nations community near Vanderhoof won’t be celebrating Canada Day this year, said Chief Priscilla Mueller.
As more unmarked graves are discovered on the grounds of former residential schools across the country through ground-penetrating radar, Mueller said it is a deeply painful time for many Indigenous people in the community.
“Because of this, we cannot lift our voices in joy to celebrate Canada,” she said in a statement. “We choose instead to raise awareness of this pain, to be with these communities, elders and residential school survivors in their grief, and to pray for change.”
Several Canadian cities, such as Victoria, have agreed to cancel their Canada Day celebrations to show solidarity with Indigenous communities.
Mueller said this is an opportunity for every Canadian to reflect on how these confirmations make them feel about their country and its history, ask questions, educate themselves on residential schools, their purpose, and the relationship between Canada and Indigenous people.
“The Canadian government wanted Indigenous people gone,” Mueller said. “Residential schools were an integral part of separating us from our families, our support structures and our culture. They are the reason for so much of the trauma that communities experience to this day.”
While Mueller believes Canada has not truthfully acknowledged, made amends, or meaningfully pursued reconciliation for the harm it has committed against Indigenous people who have lived on this land for time immemorial, she said there may be a future where every Indigenous person can celebrate the country in which we live, with as much excitement as other Canadians.
“But this will take work. From the Indigenous communities, from non-Indigenous Canadians, from the Canadian government,” she added, noting hundreds of years of persecution cannot change Indigenous people who remain strong, resilient and proud of who they are.
“We will persevere with or without help. But until we come together, we will always live in a fractured country.”
From 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. July 1 at Riverside Park orange hearts will be cut out and a coloring page by Michelle Stoney will be painted. Anika Wallace said the orange hearts would be presented the following day to local businesses to display.