Around 100 people gathered as two banners denouncing Canada Day celebrations and calling attention to the atrocities committed at residential schools were dropped at the Westside Road interchange above Highway 97 in West Kelowna on Thursday (July 1), by members of the Westbank First Nation Youth Council (WFNYC).
The first banner read “#CancelCanadaDay, No Pride in Genocide.” The second bore the message: “Schools should never have graveyards.”
“I think we were very generous in the wording because they weren’t schools,” said Brianna Wilson, a youth mentor at WFNYC. “These aren’t graveyards. They’re crime scenes at the end of the day.”
Both banners included “We are still here” written in both nsyilxcən and English, as well as the contact number for the National Indian Residential School Crisis Line, which can be reached at 1-866-925-4419.
Wilson said cancelling Canada Day is about letting the community mourn.
“The best analogy I have for you today is this: Would you have a big party and light off fireworks if your neighbour was having a funeral for their babies next door?”
It was the discovery of the remains in 751 unmarked graves near the site of the former Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan last Thursday (June 24) that compelled her to organize this event, she said.
“Think about this … kids being rounded up like cattle, taken hundreds of kilometres from their homes, to be forced to attend abusive schools — if we can even call them that — at the hands of the church and the Canadian government.”
Wilson reached out to media personality Jillian Harris to help sponsor one banner, but Harris ended up supporting two. Harris was in attendance for the event, and she said that it was the most meaningful Canada Day she’s experienced.
“It really feels like it has true purpose. I feel like the narrative is changing, people are waking up,” said Harris. “People are wanting to do better. They want to heal the past and fix the past. I think it may not happen overnight, but the story is changing.”
Wilson wanted to create a healthy space for the community to come together, acknowledge, mourn and educate others about the atrocities committed at residential schools.
“I wanted to create a positive event instead of destroying property. It was coming more from a place of passion, a place of wanting to do better,” she said, referring to the number of churches that have been torched over the past month.
She encouraged Canadians to learn about the history of Indigenous peoples and connect the past to the current state of communities.
“With more education and understanding, I’m hopeful that people will stop seeing us as less-than and start seeing us as peoples, if not more.”
“We’ve been through a lot. We’re resilient. We’re still here. We’re not resilient because we want to be, we’re resilient because we have to be.”