SASKATOON -- Following the discovery of the remains of 215 children at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, the leaders of La Ronge, the Lac La Ronge Indian Band, and the village of Air Ronge have collectively made the decision to cancel Canada Day celebrations this year and instead will focus on National Indigenous People’s Day.

"Finding these grotesque acts that were done in our nation’s history, it was certainly a time for us to reflect and reach out to our Indigenous community partners, especially in our case where we live in a tri-community," La Ronge Mayor Colin Ratushniak said.

"We reached out to (Lac La Ronge Indian Band) Chief Tammy (Cook-Searson) and council to really understand what they needed from us. It was decided that this year they would focus solely on National Indigenous People’s Day on June 21."

Ratushniak said that he understands the decision is one some may consider controversial, but he hopes that if the cancellation of Canada Day can start some conversations then that is a step in the right direction.

"If it helps to spark that one debate, or having those difficult conversations with family, friends, co-workers, then we have done our job," Ratushniak told CTV.

"What we still have to work harder on, is we still need to figure out what truth and reconciliation truly mean for us to work with our Indigenous people, community, and leaders about how we can really move forward and evolve."

Ratushniak said the decision won’t mean individual Canada Day celebrations are banned, but any town-organized Canada Day events such as the fireworks will no longer be taking place this year.

"I’m a die-hard Canadian, this isn’t a decision that was made lightly. At our council table, we had a five to two vote about participating in cancelling the event."

Ratushniak said he hopes people will take the time this year to participate in National Indigenous People’s Day events and celebrations on June 21 and understand more about why the day is important.

"The best thing that you can do right now is you can go and just show support, show ally-ship, learn, listen and hopefully that will give people a better understanding of why we made the decision that we made."

FINDING CLOSURE

News of the gravesite in B.C. came as a shock to many Canadians, especially Chief Tammy Cook-Searson of the Lac La Ronge Indian Band.

Having lost a young child herself, she understands the pain associated with that sort of tragedy, and not having any closure like so many parents of residential school children would be difficult.

“It’s painful to lose a child and it would be even more painful to not have a proper burial for your child, and be able to visit their grave site like I visit my son’s gravesite,” she said.

She hopes the emphasis on National Indigenous People’s Day this year will help to continue the conversation while remembering all of those who were in residential schools.

“We’re asking everybody to wear orange to show our respect and our honour to all the residential school survivors and all the children who didn’t make it home.”

National Indigenous People’s Day for the tri-communities will start off at 9 a.m. with a pipe lighting ceremony at the downtown La Ronge urban reserve.

It will continue to a smudge walk and parade at 11 a.m. starting at the Band Office and finishing at the urban reserve.

Family and traditional activities will be taking place from noon until 7 p.m. and the event will finish off with a fireworks display.