On Canada Day, thousands of Manitobans honour residential school survivors, those who died
'I'm not going to celebrate [Canada Day]. I will celebrate the fact that we survived,' says survivor
WARNING: This story contains distressing details.
Thousands gathered in Winnipeg for two separate rallies on Canada Day, but instead of celebrating dressed in red and white, they remembered in orange.
A rally called "No Pride in Genocide" started at noon at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights to honour the children who never came home after being taken to residential schools, and to call on the federal government to take action.
"It's a day of reflection, in many ways a day of protest. Canada can't be at peace with itself, unless it comes to peace and harmony with Indigenous governments, as was intended with the signing of the treaties," said Dennis Meeches, the chief of Long Plain First Nation and spokesperson for Treaty One Nation.
"We demand Canada recognize Indian Residential Schools, Day Schools and the Sixties Scoop as a genocidal practice."
Residential school survivor Ray Mason spoke at the rally and said Canada needs to wake up, because the world is watching.
"I could've been one of those children in those unmarked graves. To find out what happened to my fellow sisters and brothers, it really hurts me and it really makes me think twice," he said.
"I'm not going to celebrate. I will celebrate the fact that we survived the 150 years of colonialism."
The group walked toward a sacred fire at the urban headquarters of Peguis First Nation on Portage Avenue.
Another group taking part in the Every Child Matters walk gathered at Portage and Main and marched toward the Manitoba Legislature.
Another residential school survivor, Sue Caribou, was among them. She says it's been an emotional experience since the 215 unmarked graves were discovered in Kamloops, B.C.
"When they discovered the children, I felt like I was in residential school again," she said.
Caribou says being among other survivors makes her feel lucky.
"I have a lot of scars all over my body, but I'm grateful that I'm alive. I made it out of there."
Outside of Winnipeg, other communities are holding ceremonies and walks to honour residential school survivors and remember those who never made it home.
In western Manitoba, a group of people are walking 23 kilometres from the former Birtle Indian Residential School to Birdtail Sioux First Nation, about 300 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg.
Organizer Trechelle Bunn, 21, said about 70 people of all ages took part, including a Birtle Indian Residential School survivor who returned a silver ring to the school — one gifted to him by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission more than 10 years ago.
The walk was held in his honour, she said.
"He truly thought that today, with everything going on, that today was the day for him to bring his gift and return it," Bunn said. "He said it really helped him with his healing journey."
Bunn said as a younger person, the event was very meaningful.
"Being an Indigenous woman today, if it wasn't for the resilience of my ancestors and my grandparents, then I wouldn't be free or be here or who I am today. I think that's a big part of what today meant to me. it makes me a little emotional just thinking about it," Bunn said.
In northern Manitoba, Tataskweyak Cree Nation is hosting a full day of prayers and ceremonies to honour their residential school survivors, as well as a walk.
The Manitoba communities of Churchill and Shamattawa First Nation have cancelled their Canada Day events. Thompson shifted its focus to include tributes to children lost to residential schools, and Shamattawa pulled down the Canadian flag.
Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools and those who are triggered by these reports.
A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for residential school survivors and others affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.
With files from Stephanie Cram