Orange shirts flood downtown Winnipeg for commemorative powwow and walk
Pipe ceremony, survivors' walk, powwow honour residential school survivors, those who didn't make it home
Thousands of people clad in orange flowed through Winnipeg's downtown Friday in honour of the second annual National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
Among them was Riley Brown, from Manitou Rapids, also known as Rainy River First Nation, in northwestern Ontario, who now lives in Winnipeg.
Brown wore a shawl she was gifted that bears the handprints of her fellow schoolmates from her Grade 12 class she just graduated from.
For her, it represents "the residential school survivors and those who didn't make it home."
Brown's mother is a survivor.
"I'm pretty much wearing this for her and everyone else."
Last year, Brown was among roughly 10,000 people who took part in the walk, but this year, organizers from the Way-Say Healing Centre were hoping for double that.
"Compared to last year, there's a lot more attention and awareness," said Wayne Mason, the executive director of the healing centre.
"Within the last month or two, a lot of people have been coming forward and saying, 'What can I do? We're going to have the day off. Where do I get an orange shirt?'"
The tone of the pipe ceremony, survivors' walk and powwow isn't exactly clear or straightforward, said Mason.
"It's a time to celebrate, a time to awaken everybody, to learn, to educate themselves on what had happened in these Indian residential schools and the survivors and the children that didn't make it home, so all these things are going to make it very emotional," he said.
That rings true for retired Cpl. Melvin Swan, who is an elder.
- These First Nations twins say their elementary school segregated them in cold huts behind the school
Although it's not yet recognized as a provincial statutory holiday in Manitoba, National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is recognized federally as one.
"It doesn't feel like holiday because every day is a struggle trying to get the culture back intact, the language, the ceremonies and recognizing where we came from," Swan said.
"It's going to take several generations to make that right."
Valerie Thomas feels as though she's on a journey of healing that people are beginning to understand better.
Growing up, her father survived residential school, and did his best to heal from what he experienced, but was worried the church would take his children away if he taught them the Cree language.
For her, that healing starts with forgiveness.
"You're gonna be free, you're gonna be happy, you're not gonna have all that all that anger, all that hatred, all that black negative stuff in your body … it happens in walks such as this," Thomas said.
"It's a healing walk for the survivors knowing that their stories are finally heard."
Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief Garrison Settee was overwhelmed by the support from people who aren't Indigenous.
"A lot of people are wearing orange all over the city of Winnipeg that are non-Indigenous, and that really makes me feel good, that people are starting to realize the significance of this day," he said.
"We want to continue to promote awareness of what really happened in residential schools — people actually died and some were murdered in these residential schools.… It's good to come together, to unite as a people."
Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools or by the latest reports.
A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.
Mental health counselling and crisis support is also available to all Indigenous people across Canada, 24 hours a day, seven days a week through the Hope for Wellness hotline at 1-855-242-3310 or by online chat at www.hopeforwellness.ca.