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Burnaby not staging Canada Day party after unmarked graves of Indigenous children discovered

Victoria was one of the first communities to announce they were cancelling Canada Day events
Canadian flags flew at half-mast earlier this after the discovery of 215 children's remains at a Kamloops residential school site.

As First Nations communities continue to mourn unmarked graves recently discovered at what some have called "forced assimilation schools" across the country, the City of Burnaby has announced it will not be staging Canada Day celebrations. 

On May 27, Chief Rosanne Casimir of the Tk’emlups te Secwépemc First Nation said the remains of 215 children had been discovered in unmarked graves at a former Kamloops residential school. 

She called the discovery an "unthinkable loss that was spoken about but never documented at the Kamloops Indian Residential School." 

Just days ago, the Cowessess First Nation in southern Saskatchewan revealed the discovery of 751 unmarked graves at the former Marieval Indian Residential School, which the First Nation said would be the largest to date in Canada. 

Cowessess Chief Cadmus Delorme said the search began earlier this month using ground-penetrating radar that recorded 751 hits. The number would be the highest to date found in Canada. Delorme said the technology has a 10 to 15 per cent error rate.

“But we do know there are at least 600 (graves).”

In an email to the NOW, city manager of corporate communications Chris Bryan said the city is encouraging the community to use Canada Day as a time to reflect. 

"We are not staging any celebrations this year," he said. 

"The City of Burnaby is encouraging the community to use Canada Day as a time to reflect on what it means to be Canadian and how this country has evolved, and consider where we want to go as a community." 

The move comes after Victoria announced earlier this month that it would be cancelling its Canada Day broadcast and, instead, work with the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations to create an alternative event at a later date, amid nationwide calls to cancel July 1 celebrations.

"We are deeply shocked and saddened to learn of the recent confirmation of the remains of 215 children at the Kamloops Indian Residential School, on the traditional, ancestral and unceded territory of Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc (t’kem-loops te shay-wep-mehk)," Mayor Mike Hurley said at the May 31 council meeting. 

"And while we acknowledge the shock, horror, and grief of people living in Burnaby, we know that now is a time to elevate the voices of Indian Residential School survivors and their families, and take to heart what they have been telling us for decades, because they are not shocked.

"They have spoken for years of lost family members and schoolmates, and of unmarked graves at the school sites. And they have collectively told us these stories during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which in turn told Canadians of these events in its final report in 2015."

In 2016, the City of Burnaby started its own journey, and with the "determined" efforts of city staff, we have been moving forward, Hurley said.

"But we know we can and must do more to recognize and speak the Truths shared with us, and to act in ways which establish and maintain relationships with local First Nations and the Indigenous people living here.

"We encourage the citizens of Burnaby to learn more about these events, by reading the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, by studying the 94 Calls to Action, and hopefully by finding meaningful ways to act and to support those called to act.

"Burnaby Council and City Staff are here to listen, but more than that, to be accountable in honouring the memories of the children, and supporting survivors and their families by making much-needed changes to advance relationships with the First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities."

- With files from Roxanne Egan-Elliott, Times Colonist and The Canadian Press