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This year's National Indigenous Peoples Day one of reflection and change

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TORONTO -

Twenty five years ago, Indigenous groups and Canada set aside June 21 to recognize and celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day, but the painful revelation that the remains of 215 children were buried in unmarked graves at a residential school in Kamloops, B.C., less than a month earlier has changed this year’s focus to one of reflection.

From a vigil in B.C. to a renaming ceremony in Nova Scotia, Indigenous groups marked the day in different ways, but the legacy of residential schools and how much work remains in the path to reconciliation weighed heavily.

Florence Henshaw, a survivor of the Kamloops Indian Residential School, took part in a walk in St. Thomas, Ont. She was one of hundreds who gathered in the city to mark the day.

"When I was eight years old, I was taken from my mother and put in a residential school, and I wasn’t allowed to see her,” said Henshaw, who attended the school in the late 1960s.

In Ottawa, Natalie Lloyd, the general administrator of the Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health, described it as a day to pause and reflect.

“People need to understand, a lot of Indigenous people are grieving. They’re realizing that could have been my grandmother and then I wouldn’t have been here,” Lloyd said.

In Halifax, N.S., the day was commemorated with the unveiling and renaming of Cornwallis Park to Peace and Friendship Park. The park was originally named after the city’s founder, Edward Cornwallis, a British officer who committed atrocities against the Mi’kmaq peoples who lived in the region.

And in Toronto, a historic groundbreaking took place for what will be the central healing and learning place for Indigenous communities in the city. The 2.4-acre Indigenous Hub, which includes the new home of Anishnawbe Health Toronto, the Miziwe Biik Training Institute, and a childcare and family centre, is the culmination of a lifelong dream for Joe Hester, who has worked towards this day for more than 20 years.

"Our people need to have free and unfettered and safe environments to access health care,” said Hester, the executive director of Anishnawbe Health Toronto.

Dr. Alika Lafontaine, the first Indigenous person to head the Canadian Medical Association, says it is time for Canadians to have these tough conversations.

“This National Indigenous Peoples Day, I hope that Canadians reflect on how the things that we knew about residential schools continue to cycle back and for us to delve deeper into the history,” said Lafontaine, who is of Cree and Anishinaabe descent.

Back in St. Thomas, Betty Jean Phillips Budden, the organizer of the walk, says the truth has been swept under the rug for too long.

"Every once in a while it'll come out, and then we get swept back under. But I don't believe that this time, we as a nation and our peoples, are going to let it be swept under the rug again."

With files from CTV London's Brent Lale

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