Residential school survivors demand justice at rally on Canada Day

‘When it comes to children’s lives, we are going to put our foot down and we want justice,’ organizer says

Around 100 people took a knee during a moment of silence at Iqaluit’s Four Corners on Canada Day. They gathered to honour the lives of the children whose bodies were located in unmarked graves at former residential schools. (Photo by David Venn)

By David Venn
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Around 100 people gathered at Iqaluit’s Four Corners on Canada Day to honour the children whose bodies were located in unmarked graves at former residential schools across the country.

Hundreds of unmarked graves have been located at former residential schools over the past two months, and First Nations have started their own searches for other gravesites.

The Every Child Matters Remembrance Gathering began at 1 p.m. featured signs that read “Canada Day” with an “X” through it, “justice” and “every child matters.”

Mary-Lee Aliyak, who organized the event, rallied the crowd and brought up survivors of the residential school system to share their experiences.

Aliyak shouted “Kamloops,” into a loud-speaker, and the crowd shouted back, “2-1-5.”

Then, she called out six other locations where, collectively, the remains of 1,290 children were said to be found at former residential school sites, and the crowd answered.

Mary-Lee Aliyak, who organized the Every Child Matters Remembrance rally Thursday in Iqaluit, called on the federal government for justice and shared her experience of being a survivor of the residential school system. (Photo by David Venn)







There are more, she said.

Attendees, mostly dressed in orange and wearing masks, listened to survivors as they took turns with the loudspeaker, telling the crowd about the trauma they continue to suffer because of the residential school system.

“I used to be a left-handed girl,” Aliyak said. “They beat my left hand so much I became right-handed.”

Aliyak brought her son and granddaughter to the centre of the intersection, and spoke about intergenerational trauma.

“Although we try to live good lives, sometimes we have anger issues, sometimes we have nightmares. They are affected. Our community is affected.”

“[The government has] stolen much more, but when it comes to children’s lives, we are going to put our foot down and we want justice,” she said.

The gathering finished at around 2:30 p.m. with a drum dance and people placed candles and shoes at the rocks in front of the Legislative Assembly.

Meanwhile, a block away, people gathered at the Tukisigiarvik Inuit village at Iqaluit Square and behind the Elders’ Qammaq, which was one of the many events the city planned throughout the day.

Similar to National Indigenous Peoples Day, there were pop-up stations that served food and drink and that Arnaitok Arena, Arctic Winter Games Arena and the Aquatics Centre had free skating, turf time and swimming.

Mayor Kenny Bell released a statement early in the day, calling on Iqalummiut to stand in solidarity with Indigenous Peoples across the country.

“It is not a time to celebrate,” he said. “Let’s move forward together to build a stronger country where Indigenous Peoples are at the forefront,” Bell said.

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(25) Comments:

  1. Posted by Tax payer on

    So Kenny Bell who is our mayor and wants to support our indigenous brother and sisters by taxing the church. He was nowhere to be seen at 4 corners today.
    So concerned to tax the churchs but too lazy to attend a community gathering to mourn at 4 corners.

    • Posted by anon on

      Or, perhaps he was at the City-organized activity at Iqaluit Square?

  2. Posted by Hypocritical performance artists on

    “Every child matters” … unless it’s a child being raped in Nunavut, then we all look away and shoot the messenger.

    • Posted by Nini Nakashook on

      the reality is the current child protection in Nunavut lead by Inuit created under our own Government for us is also allowing children to go “missing” by not keeping records the representative for children and youth pointed out last week. Our own communities need to start having a serious conversation about violence we are doing to our own children. This is something we have control over right now.

    • Posted by Relative of.. on

      You got that freakin right. I was told it was tradition. My response was permamant end or guaranteed jail time.

    • Posted by Uvanga on

      To destroy and hate will fuel your fire of hate and destruction. maybe that is what you want. It is not our way to do wrong for each wrong. Let us not be like them!

      Let us never forget our history, the wrong doing but let us fix ourselves and land and not point the finger and forget the wrong done to Inuit by Inuit? Lateral violence. Compare those stats to the evil stats that we are discovering.
      Let us do right for all the wrong that happened.
      Focus on doing better is the best revenge!

  3. Posted by ds on

    Mary-Lee Aliyak – At which residential school was your left hand beaten? When did this happen?

    • Posted by Not inuk on

      Forcing left-handed kids to write with their right hand was not exclusive to residential schools. This was widely done by religious teachers (nuns and brothers alike) at least in Quebec. My mother, who is 79 years old, received the same treatment in school and was forced to become right-handed. Ironically, she can write backwards in cursive letters with her left hand! You just need a mirror to read her writing 🙂

      • Posted by Only plausible inference on

        The most plausible inference from the article is that it occurred in a residential school.

        • Posted by Observer on

          …which doesn’t negate the observation that this form of mistreatment was not limited to First Nations/Inuit or residential schools, and in fact is still going on in some countries today.

          Although (probably) not beaten, King George VI was naturally left-handed and was forced to use his other hand to write. When a future monarch is forced to use the wrong hand, one can’t claim this is a unique form of abuse. I’d lay pretty good odds that some of the teachers at that residential school were themselves forced to use their right hands as children.

          • Posted by The point is on

            You’re losing track of the point which is: Ms Aliyak told a heart wrenching story at the rally of how her left hand was beaten as a child at a residential school. Since many of us are wary of sensationalist claims being made on this topic, inquiring minds want to know at which residential school was her hand beaten and when did this happen. Remember that, without truth, there can be no reconciliation.

            • Posted by On Point on

              Without truth, there can be no reconciliation! Ms. Aliyak, these words are so powerful and there’s no time like the present to start being truthful, I think it will bring you so much peace in life.

    • Posted by bill tungalik on

      Akaitcho HJall and Sir Johns LOL

  4. Posted by anonymous on

    Canada Day and survivors of Residential School are 2 different issues. Each year, elders, children and youth alike look forward to Canada Day events -most aren’t on social media to know that Canada Day events were cancelled. My 2 cents

    • Posted by Sulijuq on

      AGREE! 100%! all the fun for kids and bringing families together for the sake of exchanging it honouring those of our ancestors who died, that is even sadder than the sadness we feel. It seems we try to make a point, yes, but then it is lost.

      We needed to pull together. Good on those who went ahead. Arviat strong! Grise Fjord strong! Red and Orange, plus the colours of the rainbow.

    • Posted by Yeah… on

      Yeah, I was ok with Canada Day events being cancelled or modified or whatever.

      But I feel like kids, from all walks of life, are the ones that get screwed over again out of having a day for them…. All for the sake of a handful of virtue signaling adults who need to be seen and heard, again. And then we get flooded with more angry people at the opposite end of the spectrum who say “how dare you mess with OUR Canada Day!”

      We’re just getting more and more divided by people on the fringe who shame us into doing what’s right. And now yesterday’s vigil event is getting divided between the tax vs don’t tax the church folks. Just more virtue signaling by people with not-so-noble agendas.

      If you’re one of these people who feels the need to take it upon yourself to shake things up, take a minute to ask yourself who and how much it affects others.

      Also, as others have mentioned, there needs to be more outrage about the kids being victimized today by sexual abuse. That’s actually something tangible we can do something about.

  5. Posted by Where was the mayor?? on

    Where was the mayor?! He supports indigenous people when it gets him media attention but he’s not there when the spotlight is off. This is a prime example of the character of this mayor and his true interests.

    • Posted by Madeleine on

      The Mayor is taking action and may not be the most articulate guy but at least he’s trying. I didn’t need to see him at four corners yesterday to know how much he cares.

  6. Posted by Dan Gillespy on

    That was a very sad time.

  7. Posted by What are the demands? on

    Somebody should ask what they would consider justice. If they are demanding justice, but what exactly are they demanding?

    • Posted by Ryan on

      I am wondering the same thing. I honestly clicked this link in hopes of finding more information on how justice will be fulfilled? I don’t know how we can move forward from this 😟

  8. Posted by Canada should learn from Pangirtung on

    It was wonderful to see the photo caption of the Canada Day celebrations in Pang with happy and proud individuals celebrating with the Maple Leaf. They are teaching the rest of the country that we can reflect on our mistakes while still celebrating Canada as the greatest country in which to live.

    Thank you Pang for bringing some sanity to these recent times!!!

  9. Posted by Arnold on

    In regards to Canada Day…

    Im encouraged that elsewhere there some people coming together and celebrating what Canada is, and what it should become, instead of all the hate and anger and deviceness.

    We are a country that’s acknowledged horrible mistakes in the past. Many calls for “Justice” and that is brought about through our courts and the law. Residential School survivors received a $3B+ settlement in their class action lawsuit against Canada and the Prime Minister apologized to residential school survivors on the floor of Parliament; on behalf of all Canadians. The Canadian government held a special commission on Truth and Reconciliation and committed $millions$ to its action items. This was the agreement made with residential school survivors.

    Is Canada perfect? Does the settlement make every thing right? No

    Is there more work to be done. YES

    But now there are many, many angry people who want to cancel anything they don’t like. The spew hate out of their anger and seek to divide and put a wedge between people instead of trying to educate and build bridges to understanding so that we can make things right for this and future generations.

    Compared with any other country who has indigenous peoples, I feel Canada has made the most progress and the national solidarity we saw on Canada Day with indigenous people like this one in Iqaluit leads me to believe we are a country that wants to do better!

    That’s worthy of recognition, and perhaps even somber celebration.

    ((Not to mention Canada’s contributions to world peace, science, entertainment, climate change, aid for those in need, muliculturalism, law, freedom, medicine, industry, sport etc.))

    Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    Happy Canada Day

  10. Posted by Generational trauma on

    If we are going to start digging up crimes of ancestors then we better find a way for reconciliation for everyone. The Catholic church also caused trauma in other provinces, molested and murder white kids, by the hundreds as well. There was a class action law suit for the survivors, who got very little compensation. You do not see their living relatives comitting arson, vandalism on existing structures.

    In the maritimes, many communities were forced to move to large urban centres for the guise of progress and to force kids into schools. Entire towns abandoned, for government control. Some families chose to stay behind and were told they would not be provided healthcare, and other emergency services if they remained. If something like that happened in Nunavut people would be outraged.

  11. Posted by C Stephen on

    The fact is there’s no short cut/easy way beyond when the damage has been done. Some will die by their own hand or others, some will be traumatized, dysfunction will be with us for generations. Money and resources spent on the children giving a best possible start would be good. Not a solution per se but time/resources well allocated.


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