Hundreds of demonstrators, many wearing orange shirts, flocked to Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Saturday for an NDP-led march demanding justice for residential school victims (Photo by Madayln Howitt, special to Nunatsiaq News)

Parliament Hill awash in orange as demonstrators demand justice for residential school victims

Growing realization of ‘injustice and inequality in Canada,’ march organizer Mumilaaq Qaqqaq says

By Madalyn Howitt
Special to Nunatsiaq News

OTTAWA — Hundreds of orange shirts dotted the green lawns of Parliament Hill Saturday as more than 500 demonstrators gathered for the NDP-led March for Truth and Justice. Orange shirts have become a symbol of the fight for justice for victims of Canada’s residential schools, where decades of abuse of Indigenous children occurred at the hands of teachers and clergy.

Organized by Nunavut MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq and fellow NDP MP Charlie Angus, the march took place on the heels of the MPs’ call earlier in July on the federal government to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate crimes committed against Indigenous people at residential schools.

In the past few months, Canadians have been learning about the abuses of Indigenous children at residential schools as unmarked graves are located at more and more of the former institutions, the last of which closed in 1996.

Piita Irniq, a former commissioner of Nunavut, and a victim of residential school abuse (right), embraces Nunavut MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq after speaking at an NDP-led march in Ottawa on Saturday (Photo by Madalyn Howitt, special to Nunatsiaq News)

“Thank you for caring,” said Qaqqaq to the crowd, visibly overcome with emotion. “The whole point of us being here is for the children.”

Qaqqaq criticized government leaders for not doing enough in the fight for truth and reconciliation. The New Democrat announced in May she would not seek a second term as Nunavut’s MP when the next federal election is called — possibly within weeks.

“The federal institution has done a phenomenal [job] of not sharing the truth with you. I know [though], because you’re all here, that Canadians are coming to more of a realization that there is a lot of injustice and inequality in Canada,” she said.

Indigenous elders led the march from Parliament Hill to the federal Justice Department — a few blocks away in downtown Ottawa — as participants chanted “no justice, no peace” and carried flags and signs demanding accountability.

Sean French, originally from the Kahnawake Mohawk Territory, joined the march and said he feels inspired by young women like Qaqaaq who are leading the fight for Indigenous rights.

“My people are matriarchal, and Indigenous women do the real fighting in the brains and the heart,” he said. “That’s the work that needs to be done. We’ve got to fight with people’s hearts and minds to get them to understand what’s wrong with everything that has been happening.”

There’s a growing realization among Canadians of the “injustice and inequality in Canada,” says Nunavut MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, an organizer of an NDP-lead march on Parliament Hill on Saturday. (Photo by Madalyn Howitt, special to Nunatsiaq News)

Paul Henry from Petawawa, an Ottawa Valley community, participated in honour of his partner, Jennifer Spence, who attended the St. Anne’s residential school in Fort Albany First Nation, in northern Ontario, as a child.

“Either we have justice, or we have genocide in Canada,” he said. “It’s ironic that in front of the Peace Tower we’re recognizing the number of children that have not had justice, and these are the only ones identified,” he added.

In addition to organizers Qaqqaq and Angus, other notable speakers at the event included Aliqa Illauq, who announced this week she will be seeking the NDP nomination in Nunavut, and residential school survivors.

Piita Irniq, a former commissioner of Nunavut, addressed the crowd and spoke of his experiences at Sir Joseph Bernier Federal Day School in Chesterfield Inlet.

“We were abused in every way possible, by the staff, by the clergy,” he shared. “We had a loss of culture. We had a loss of language. We had a loss of traditional beliefs, such as Inuit shamanism, and we also had a loss of parenting skills.”

As thousands of unmarked graves continue to be discovered at the sites of former residential schools, participants of the march emphasized the need to honour those children who died.

“They were buried, intending for everybody to forget them, but they are not forgotten,” said Sytukie Joamie of Iqaluit. “The truth has come out and will prevail for these children. Once justice is carried out, their spirits will be free again.”




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(12) Comments:

  1. Posted by Resource theft on

    Qaqqaq claims, “The whole point of us being here is for the children.”

    If you cared about real children, you would go after the abusers who are currently abusing and neglecting Nunavut children TODAY.

    The kids who died of TB and flu 100 years ago can’t be brought back. Residential school is over, that problem no longer exists. It’s been over for a long time, but activists just can’t let it go.

    Kids TODAY have problems that need solving. Sexual abuse, emotional abuse, neglect.

    Shame on activists and politicians for stealing people’s energy, attention and resources to waste on problems from many decades ago that have already been dealt with, instead of directing that energy and resources to the children of Nunavut who need help.

    • Posted by Karen on

      Shame on you for not acknowledging that these issues are related

    • Posted by Angry on

      Shame on you for commenting that residential schools are over. It will never be over for the victims. The horrendous atrocities carried over has left trail of trauma..mine included. You’ve obviously are clueless or just ignorant and just don’t care. SHAME ON YOU.

    • Posted by Inept MP on

      What do you expect from someone who gets paid for a full years work while taking a half year off?

      • Posted by Please stop on

        To ‘Inept MP,’ please realize that this reflexive criticism serves no good purpose and is counterproductive to any legitimate or serious criticism that can be made. If you can’t offer a meaningful insight consider staying silent until you are able to.

    • Posted by Shame on you! on

      Shame on you too for wasting all your energy hiding behind a computer to put down mumilaaqs efforts to bring indigenous children’s names to light and doing her best efforts to bring those who harmed our grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles to justice! Shame on all you harmful trolls! You are the reason why our territory may never heal!! People like you.
      Way to go Mumilaaq, Angus, Piita, you have my support

    • Posted by atana mae on

      what kind of pig has the nerve to speak this way? disgusting

    • Posted by Oh Ima on

      The victims of the monster deserve justice and that is what she and others are calling for. One of the victims committed suicide because of what was done to him. He was charged but the justice system failed him and other victims.
      As for abusers right now, you should know that victims are usually scared to come to authorities. How dare you blame Mumillaq for not doing anything at least she brings up the issue and maybe more victims will go to authorities.

  2. Posted by Tulugaq on

    As Piita Irniq knows, there was a multi year investigation in the 1990’s on the abuse suffered by the Inuit children who attended the Joseph Bernier day school and the Turquetil Hall. There was not a shadow of doubt that criminal abuse had taken place in that school for decades but at the end of day, no charge could be laid for any of the crimes committed.

    The Canadian legal system that applies in Nunavut (as in any other part of the country) has rules for laying charges that prevented these cases from being prosecuted. For example, some of the abuse could only be prosecuted as summary conviction offences that have a 6 months time limitation while the crimes were committed years before. The more serious, indictable offences that have no time limitation could not go to court because either the perpetrator was dead or the victimes could not identify who the abuser was (some didn’t remember or didn’t know the real name of the offender or could not identify them on photo lineup). Those are just some examples of the limitations the Canadian criminal system impose on prosecutions even though the victims tell the truth.

    Additionally, there was an inquiry led by lawyer K. Peterson for then GNWT that had access to the police investigation and the evidence and a report was released at the time. Crimes were committed but the criminal court system was unable to go any further.

    So, since no charges were laid at the time, a new criminal investigation could take place but the legal challenge to lay charges will be even higher after another 25 years. Since genocide took place (there is no doubt Canada committed genocide under the definition of the Convention for the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide, article II), the evidence is there, for example a speech written by then Superintendent of Indians, Duncan Scott in 1910 who mentions that the residential schools are part of the “final solution of the Indian problem”, and perhaps International law and courts could be an avenue to deal with genocide.

  3. Posted by Michael Cunning on

    I also think it is time to direct that energy into todays children. More housing, affordable food, better health care. You can’t bring those children from 100 years ago back.

  4. Posted by Understand trauma is brought down each generation on

    Remember all the trauma experienced is trickled down to today’s children. We still feel the effects of residential school.
    It’s like telling Jews the Germans are nice ppl learn to live with them. All we want is to heal. But in order to heal we need the rest of Cana da and the world to acknowledge that these things happened for real and we struggle for real today.

  5. Posted by temp on

    Not a fan of Ms. Qaqqaq, but I support her on this one. If there were crimes committed, those responsible should be brought to justice.


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