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Peace Tower flag lowered on Canada Day to honour Indigenous children: Trudeau

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he asked that the national flag on the Peace Tower remain at half-mast for Canada Day to honour the Indigenous children who died in residential schools.

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he asked that the national flag on the Peace Tower remain at half-mast for Canada Day to honour the Indigenous children who died in residential schools.

In a post on his Twitter account Wednesday, Trudeau said he made the decision as he and many Canadians reflect on the tragedy of the institutions.

Hours later, the Lower Kootenay Band in British Columbia said a search using ground-penetrating radar had found 182 human remains in unmarked graves at a site close to a former residential school in Cranbrook.

Speaking at a news conference in Ottawa, Trudeau said it's not just for institutions and governments to act to right the wrongs that were done to Indigenous people but it's also for individual Canadians to have conversations on what should be done.

"We have to know not everyone is going to be celebrating tomorrow, and understanding their pain and their anger and reflecting on that and thinking about how each of us can commit ourselves (to do better)," he said.

"Each of us, in our daily lives can say, 'This is part of my problem, my responsibility, as a Canadian, to think about how I can bend this curve towards justice, towards reconciliation.'"

Trudeau, who just finished quarantining after returning from Europe, said he got a text message from his son Xavier asking him whether his father will cancel Canada Day because of the history of residential schools.

"I told him it's going to be a day where, yes, we will celebrate the great things about this country but we will mostly reflect on the work that we all have to do as individuals and as institutions to be better," Trudeau said.

"That's what this Canada Day, I think, will be about for a lot of families. It's certainly what it's going to be about for my family." 

Cowessess First Nation last week said that ground-penetrating radar detected 751 unmarked graves at the former Marieval Indian Residential School east of Regina, Sask., a few weeks after the finding of what are believed to be the remains of 215 children in Kamloops, B.C.

Canadian Heritage plans to still go ahead with virtual Canada Day events like last year, with an online music show featuring English, French and Indigenous artists.

Mikisew Cree First Nation in Alberta urged its members to wear orange tomorrow as a day of reflection and remembrance to pray for those found in British Columbia and Saskatchewan.

Chief Peter Powder said it has been an incredibly difficult time for all Indigenous Peoples.

"We need to seek the advice of our elders. We need to share our pain, to heal, to pray and to plan how to move forward," he said in a statement. 

"We need to find those who are missing and finally allow them to rest in peace. We can’t possibly dance and celebrate this Canada Day and pretend everything is OK because it's not. We must and we will dig for the truth."

Several cities and communities across the country have decided to forgo parts of their usual Canada Day festivities.

Events will be partially or fully cancelled in Saint John, Fredericton, Victoria, Wilmot Township in Ontario’s Waterloo region, and St. Albert, a city northwest of Edmonton, in solidarity with mourning Indigenous communities.

Several communities in Yukon including Dawson City, Teslin, Carmacks and Haines Junction have also chosen to scrap celebrations in light of the discovery of unmarked graves at former residential schools.

This report was first published by The Canadian Press on June 30, 2021.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Maan Alhmidi, The Canadian Press