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OTTAWA – The National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations says there must be another symbolic gesture to recognize the genocide of Indigenous children if Canada is to hoist its flag.

RoseAnne Archibald says ideas for such an expression will be discussed at the organization’s executive meeting this week, adding that national Inuit and Métis leaders must also be involved.

Questions about what to do with the national flag have surfaced in the run-up to Remembrance Day, an occasion on which it has traditionally been half-masted in tribute to soldiers who died in the service of Canada.

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The flags of the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill and other federal buildings have been at half mast since the end of May, but the Royal Canadian Legion has announced its intention to hoist the flag at the Ottawa War Memorial on the 11th. November before immediately lowering it again to half mast.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called for the lowering of national flags after the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc Nation announced that ground-penetrating radar detected what are believed to be the remains of 215 Indigenous children in an ancient Kamloops Residential School, British Columbia.

Weeks later, the Cowessess First Nation near Regina revealed that they had found 751 unmarked graves, prompting Indigenous leaders and many non-Indigenous Canadians to redouble calls for Ottawa to help bring justice to residential school survivors.

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“You can’t just raise the flags and replace it with nothing,” Archibald told The Canadian Press in an interview on Saturday.

“This, to me, is a great disgrace and would be a great disgrace and hurtful to all the children we have yet to find.”

Archibald said “a symbolic gesture must be found if the flags are to be raised”.

Such action should be significant, Archibald said, adding that the AFN believes some sort of symbol must remain in place for the long term, as many sites of former residential schools have yet to be excavated for graves. unmarked.

It is estimated that more than 4,000 indigenous children died while forced to attend church-run and government-funded institutions, where thousands more suffered physical and sexual abuse, neglect and abuse. malnutrition.

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The 2015 report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, based on the testimonies of thousands of former students, said the system that has operated for more than 120 years has perpetuated a “cultural genocide” against the survivors.

Archibald said more than 130 of these “assimilation and genocide” institutions remain to be investigated.

“We have a long way to go,” she said.

“These children deserve to be found, named and buried with proper ceremony and returned, physically or ceremonially, to their country of origin. This is a very important thing for us as First Nations people.

As for November 11, it’s up to Trudeau if he wants to raise the flag.

The Royal Canadian Legion has said it will hoist the flag at the National War Memorial on Remembrance Day morning before lowering it again in a ceremony scheduled to honor the dead. The flag will then be presented to this year’s Silver Cross Mother, who represents the mothers of soldiers who died during their military service.

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The legion recommended branches across Canada hoist the flag before their individual ceremonies, but a spokeswoman said the decision to do so was up to them.

The Legion has the power to control what happens to the flag at the National War Memorial on that day, as it is responsible for the annual ceremony at the site.

After November 11, it is again up to the government to decide how high the flag flies at the memorial.

Canadian Heritage says the flags of government buildings and the Peace Tower remain lowered in memory of Indigenous children who died in residential schools, as well as survivors and their families.

The ministry said on Friday that unless the prime minister decides to return the flag to the mainmast before Remembrance Day, it will stay at half mast that day instead of being hoisted and half masted again.

Trudeau has previously said he will keep the national flag lowered at federal sites until Indigenous peoples are ready to see it hoisted.

The Conservatives think differently. Opposition Leader Erin O’Toole, who served in the Air Force, said it was time to raise the flag, because there are many reasons to be proud of Canada, and hoisting the national symbol should be seen as a sign that the country is committed to building a Better future.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on October 31, 2021

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