On the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, people gathered in communities across the province to commemorate and recognize the Canadian legacy of residential schools.
The Quebec Minister responsible for Native Affairs, Ian Lafrenière, attended an event organized by the Innu community of Uashat mak Mani-utenam on the site of the former residential school in Mani-utenam, in Quebec, near Sept-Îles.
Dozens of people wearing orange shirts were in attendance, as the day unfolded with speeches and prayers from community members.
Addressing the crowd, Lafrenière said Quebeckers should take the time to learn about what happened in residential schools and learn about the impact on Indigenous peoples to date.
“We cannot forget Joyce Echaquan who died under horrific circumstances,” he said Thursday morning. “We cannot forget the survivors, the victims of residential schools.
“This week we have a duty to remember.”
Reconciliation is not just a political issue and must happen at all levels, said Mike McKenzie, Chief of the Innu Nation of Uashat mak Mani-utenam.
“The first step in achieving reconciliation is the truth, a truth that must be recognized and taught,” he said.
The Innu Nation is proud of its resilience
Naomi Fontaine, who was one of the moderators of the event at Uashat mak Mani-utenam, said the Innu can be proud to still be there despite the colonizers’ attempts to erase their language and culture.
“Today is also a day to celebrate the resilience of our culture,” she said.
The mayor of Sept-Îles, Réjean Porlier, said that facing the truth can be uncomfortable, but it is necessary to dismantle the racism that still exists today against Indigenous peoples.
“We don’t always want to look at ourselves in the mirror and ask ourselves if we did the right thing,” he said.
Events across the province marked the day.
Hundreds of people, including students and community members, gathered in front of Bishop’s University in Sherbrooke before walking to Centennial Park.
In the Gaspé, the Mi’kmaq de Gespeg and Gesgapegiag also commemorated the day with marches.
Children from a school in Wendake marked the day by wearing orange and creating a banner with their handprints.
Students from many schools across the province participated in activities today to learn more about the meaning of the day.
The Quebec legislature, the National Assembly, will be lit in orange on Thursday evening.
Hundreds of people parade in Montreal
In Montreal, hundreds of people honored children found in anonymous graves at residential school sites across the country by attending a memorial service and then walking from Place du Canada to Place des Arts.
Organized by the Native Women’s Refuge and the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador, the event featured Indigenous leaders, advocates and youth from Quebec and Labrador communities.
The marchers wore orange and some played drums during the ceremony.
Nakuset, director of the Native Women’s Shelter, told CBC that while the day has been touted by the federal government as an opportunity for reflection, she wants to see more concrete actions than just raising awareness.
“How does thinking really help us? It doesn’t help us that you are thinking. What would help us is if you introduce yourself, if you are moved by what you are hearing today, and if it prompts you to act. This is what we want, ”she said.
Just south of Montreal, in Kahnawake, the Kahnawà: ke Mohawk Nation marked the event with a birthday celebration that included gifts and a cake for survivors.
“It’s a birthday party because when we were at residential school there was no birthday party,” said residential school survivor Kakaionstha Deer.
The organizers said they wanted to keep the atmosphere bright while allowing reflection, because there had already been so much pain this year with the discovery of unmarked graves.
Quebec will not make this day a statutory holiday
Despite calls to make National Truth and Reconciliation Day a provincial holiday, the CAQ government continued to reject the idea.
Prime Minister François Legault rejected the idea Thursday in the National Assembly, after the parliamentary leader of Quebec solidaire, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, proposed to make September 30 a public holiday.
The Quebec Liberals and the Parti Quebecois said this morning that they would be in favor of the idea, but Legault rejected the motion saying that Quebec already has eight public holidays and adding another would be too “expensive”. .
“Listen, all provinces have a challenge to be competitive and productive. In Quebec, when we look at the number of days, the number of hours worked in a year, we have work to do. So I think there are a lot of other ways to mark, to commemorate what happened with the residential schools, ”said Legault.
He added that while some provinces have chosen to give people paid leave, including Manitoba, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, others, like Ontario, have not. not done.
WATCH | How this faithful Kanien: keha’ka celebrates the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation:
Federal Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault said he was deeply disappointed by Legault’s comments.
“I mean, as a Quebecer myself, I am shocked and dismayed by Premier Legault’s comments. I think it shows how little empathy he has for the individuals, families and communities that have been and still are traumatized by the residential school system.
“I hope that in the future, Premier Legault will be able to show more compassion and understanding towards the Aboriginal peoples of Quebec and Canada,” said Guilbeault.
Alan Gull, who attended the march in Montreal and has parents who were in residential schools, said he was hurt by the province’s decision not to officially recognize the day as a public holiday.
“The day of reconciliation is really, really important for the First Nations and it is sad to see the government of Quebec not recognize this day at all,” he said. “It’s hurtful to a lot of people.”