On the afternoon of July 1 a number of Iqalummuit gathered at the Four Corners in Iqaluit to commemorate victims of the residential school system in light of findings in recent months of unmarked and mass graves at several residential school grounds.
“I encourage all Iqalummuit to take time to support Inuit, First Nations and Metis peoples and honour the lives of children who are forever lost, those who survived residential schools, and those whose families continue to mourn this July 1,” wrote Mayor of Iqaluit Kenny Bell in a statement on Canada Day earlier in the morning.
Emcee and organizer of the Every Child Matters gathering, Mary-Lee Aliyak, speaks at the Four Corners of the impact of residential schools on herself and others. Trevor Wright/NNSL photo
“Let’s move forward together to build a stronger country where Indigenous peoples are at the forefront. Let’s work together to make Nunavut and Canada a place that we can be proud to call home.”
It was a sombre time as participants wore orange masks, shirts and signs, the colour which now symbolizes how the residential school system took away the Indigenous identity of its victims. Calls for justice for these victims was the order of the day.
“They have stolen our lives, that is why we’re gathering here today! It’s not about money, it’s not about greed, it’s not about taxes. It’s about wanting justice!” said Mary-Lee Aliyak, speaking to the crowd. She helped organize this gathering with the help of Black Lives Matter and other community organizations.
In English and in Inuktitut, a few residential school survivors spoke about their experiences, including Aliyak herself who remembers being punished and beaten at school in the early 1990s.
“It is Inuit law that culprits get justice for the innocent, then there’s healing. We want justice!” said Aliyak.
“No pride in genocide” reads a sign held up by a participant in the Every Child Matters gathering. Trevor Wright/NNSL photo
“Every Child Matters” was chanted among those participating.
Those taking part in the gathering took time to pause and consider what they think of Canada Day in this current context.
“Canada Day, for me, should always be a time where we reflect on and respect the people who were here before this was Canada, and we haven’t generally been good at that, so let’s change that,” said Suzanne Etheridge.
Others noted the past has to be taken account for before moving forward and while they don’t want to cancel Canada Day, it is time to take another look at what it means.
“We don’t really want to cancel Canada Day, what we need to do is redefine what we do to commemorate (it),” said Gayle Harrison.
The Mayor noted this was a day that non-Indigenous people should use for reflection.
“Instead of wearing red for Canada, Iqalummuit may wish to wear orange,” he wrote, adding it is not a time to celebrate.
As of press time the number of bodies found at Canadian residential school grounds since this year’s first location in Kamloops was 1,505, around 20 per cent of Iqaluit’s population.