Crowd flocks to Mosaic Stadium in Regina to celebrate inaugural Miyo-wîcîwitowin Day
Gov. Gen Mary Simon and AFN National Chief RoseAnne Archibald speak at event
A crowd estimated at over 12,000 thronged Mosaic Stadium on Thursday to celebrate the inaugural Miyo-wîcîwitowin Day.
The event is meant to build awareness of the past and create a better future by understanding the importance of implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's 94 calls to action in the spirit of reconciliation.
High school students, survivors and Indigenous leaders from across Canada remembered those who died in residential schools, those who survived and the intergenerational trauma that exists today.
However, there was also joy and celebration in the stadium, as members of multiple First Nations across Saskatchewan performed through storytelling and poetry. After about an hour of dancing and drumming to usher in the event, Chief Cadmus Delorme addressed the crowd in Cree, saying, 'it's a beautiful day.'
Students comprised a large portion of the crowd. Many said they were learning about Indigenous history in their classrooms.
"It's going to be a good day and hoping everybody is going to be respectful," student Krishaze Threefingers said before the event kicked off. "I'm just proud to be here."
Delorme told the media that he is pleased schools are now teaching "true" Indigenous history.
"Our youth in this stadium are driving those conversations at kitchen tables across this country," Delorme said. "The biggest challenge we face in Canada is the parents and grandparents who may not have known the truth."
Tim Reid, president and CEO of Regina Exhibition Association Ltd. (REAL), which helped stage the event, said organizers likely co-ordinated the largest movement of students on buses in Regina's history.
"This is the first time we have brought all school divisions together at one place, and I think ultimately when this stadium was promised to our community, it was that it was not going to be just the football stadium," Reid said.
"And I think today it wasn't just the football stadium. In fact, I think today it was a statement about our community and where we want to go. And most importantly, to have 12,000 people come to talk about reconciliation in Canada … I'm not sure that that's happened anywhere else before and so I'm really proud of what we did today."
Reid believes there will be discussions about putting on another Miyo-wîcîwitowin Day in the future.
Regina Mayor Sandra Masters said many dignitaries from across the province were in attendance. That, she said, is an important step toward healing and understanding the truth.
"I think one of the elements of today is both that gathering of youth and that focus on youth, but also then that ability to network," she said. "Reading is one part and it's really important. Understanding history is pretty important. But when you can build relationships within communities and extend that olive branch, that's actually where the real learning and the real teaching happens."
Driving the truth
Miyo-wîcîwitowin, which means reconciliation in Cree, is also defined as walking together in a good way.
Thursday's event came the day before the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, which was set aside last year as a federal statutory holiday to commemorate children who died while being forced to attend church-run and government-funded residential schools and those who survived.
"One day at a time that we drive truth, that we understand the truth of what happened to Indigenous people," Delorme said to a crowd of people adorned in orange shirts.
"We don't want pity, we don't want anyone to feel sorry for our history — we all inherited this. But when you inherit something you have a responsibility to do something about it. Let's make our actions about reconciliation."
Cowessess First Nation is among the First Nation communities that have discovered unmarked graves in their region connected with residential schools.
"It took validation of unmarked graves in this country attached to residential schools for Canadians to finally put that shield down," Delorme told the media.
"We're truly at a moment right now where we all need to reset our compass just a little bit, because our next generation is looking and waiting for us to do something about it, and that's what reconciliation is all about."
Delorme called on people to continue working toward reconciliation every day rather than on designated days.
The Governor General of Canada, Mary Simon, was at the event the day after she visited James Smith Cree Nation to offer prayers and condolences to the community and the families of the nine victims of a stabbing rampage in the community.
Simon, like Delorme, focused on the importance of education in reconciliation, speaking about the hardships Indigenous people have endured, their "resilient" spirit, Indigenous values and history "so you can do better and build a better country for Indigenous people and for all Canadians."
Orange 'seat of truth' unveiled
During the event, Masters helped unveil what she called the "seat of truth."
Painted a bright orange, seat 11 in row seven of section 531 is extremely visible in a sea of Riders-themed green. It is meant to honour those who never made it home from residential schools.
"The idea being if you look at it, you can't unsee it," Masters said.
"And so every time that Jumbotron is looking at it, every time that screen is looked at and it's looked at often, you'll see the orange chair and it's meant to remind us that we can't forget," Masters said.
Stories, music and dance
The event at Mosaic Stadium ran from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and included personal stories from residential school survivors, music and dance.
There were also presentations from RoseAnne Archibald, Assembly of First Nations national chief, Ted Quewezance, a residential school survivor who went to Rome earlier this year to persuade Pope Francis to visit Canada, and Lori Campbell, associate vice president, Indigenous engagement at University of Regina among others.
It opened with a performance from the Creeland Dancers, a group that specializes in Métis jigging and square dancing and closed with Vancouver-based DJ Kookum and Indigenous trap music duo Snotty Nose Rez Kids.
The event, developed by Cowessess First Nation and REAL with support from a number of partners, was expected to cost a total of $400,000, according to a staff report in early August.
About $50,000 came from the City of Regina executive committee and another $50,000 came from the federal and provincial governments.
With files from CBC's Alexander Quon