Calgary’s Canada Day fireworks display could be changed in wake of new residential school discovery

CALGARY — The City of Calgary may change its plans for a Canada Day fireworks display in the wake of an estimated 751 unmarked graves being discovered near a former residential school in Saskatchewan, Mayor Naheed Nenshi said Friday.

“After the horrific discovery yesterday, there’s a good question to be had, a good discussion to be had, around, should we postpone those fireworks given that we are in a period of mourning, out of respect,” he said.

“I’m currently gathering information from folks with lots of different opinions … and ultimately, we may make a change on the fireworks in the next few days. But we’ll do so in a respectful way after really engaging with Calgarians, particularly but not exclusively with Indigenous people, with elders and others and see what the right thing to do is this year.

“It’s not about cancelling Canada Day, it’s not about taking away the celebration, but it is about understanding that this year is a different year.”

The city announced plans for fireworks earlier this week, and Nenshi said his message could have been conveyed better.

“Maybe I didn’t put through as clearly as I could have or should have that this year’s Canada Day is different,” he said.

“It’s not different just because we’re not gathering together. It’s different because we’ve got a lot on our mind. It really is a moment of reckoning for the city.”

The residential school system, which began in the late 1800s and continued to operate into the 1990s, saw Indigenous children forcibly removed from their homes and families and moved to schools in an effort to have them assimilate to colonial norms and culture.

Alberta was home to the most residential schools of any province or territory, with nearly one-fifth of Canada’s 134 recognized schools located within the province’s boundaries.

The recent discoveries of 215 unmarked burial sites near a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C. and an estimated 751 unmarked graves near a former residential school on the Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan have been met with outrage, frustration and heartbreak across Canada.

The government of Alberta has since pledged $8 million to assist the search for unmarked graves and investigate undocumented deaths linked to residential schools in the province.

At-home Canada Day kits were sent to Calgarians, which Nenshi said “have bubbles and beach balls in them, but they also have a lot of content about what to do with your kids to help them learn about Indigenous Canada and our Indigenous history.”

“I’m really suggesting to everyone that this be a day where we educate ourselves,” he said.

“I think the best think you can do on Canada Day for the country is commit to take the Indigenous Canada course offered by the University of Alberta and educate yourself and your family and your kids.”

Along with being thoughtful, Nenshi said he hopes Calgarians will “commit to action.”

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