Events around Sask. commemorate National Day for Truth and Reconciliation
'We're still healing,' says chief of Star Blanket Cree Nation
Saskatchewan observed Canada's first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation today alongside the rest of the country on Thursday.
The new federal statutory holiday honours the survivors of residential schools and their families and communities.
It is intended to give Canadians a chance to learn about the legacy of residential schools, and asks the country to reflect on its bleak history of mistreatment of Indigenous peoples and the lasting intergenerational trauma of residential schools.
The federal statutory day was officially declared on June 3 of this year, after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommended it in its 94 calls to action, which were released in 2015.
Action No. 80 called for this day to "ensure that public commemoration of the history and legacy of residential schools remains a vital component of the reconciliation process."
The day saw federally regulated workplaces, banks and post offices closed.
It also coincides with Orange Shirt Day, described by the federal government as an Indigenous-led grassroots commemorative day that encourages the wearing of an orange shirt to "honour the children who survived Indian Residential Schools and remember those who did not."
Saskatchewan Treaty Commissioner Mary Culbertson told CBC Saskatchewan's Afternoon Edition that she was relieved to see the day finally being observed, but perturbed to see how long it took.
Culbertson said residential schools were a part of her reality growing up, as most of her uncles and dozens of her cousins attended them.
"I'd go pick up nieces and nephews at residential schools. It wasn't until about my late 20s, 30s that I realized the rest of the country doesn't know about these things. It has shaped every single aspect of my life up to where I am today," she said.
Culbertson said the discoveries of unmarked graves over the past summer have forced people to learn about the issue "because it's right in front of their eyes." She said even then there are "willfully ignorant people" who do not acknowledge the intergenerational effects of the residential school system.
"Just as we have intergenerational trauma, we have intergenerational healing. Reconciliation is going to be just that. It's going to be intergenerational," Culbertson said.
"It won't happen overnight. It's a journey and we have to keep going. We can't forget about this in one or two generations."
Memorials, walks reflect on legacy of schools
The last federally run residential school in the country closed in Saskatchewan in 1996. Culbertson said that shows how the legacy of residential schools was not long past, noting her son was born in 1992.
Education and awareness is the way ahead, she said.
"On this day, I'll be walking with my home tribal council area, the Yorkton Tribal Council. I'll be walking with my relations and my people," she said.
"I'll be thinking about those people who lost their lives, the children who lost their lives, and those children who went to those schools and never came home."
While Yorkton Tribal Council observed an orange T-shirt day, the Saskatoon Tribal Council organized a concert at SaskTel Centre called Every Child Matters, featuring cultural performances and music from Gord Banford, Charlie Major and George Canyon.
"It's Orange Shirt Day and I want to celebrate it," 12-year-old Alexi Sylvester said outside SaskTel Centre.
"There is people on the reserve struggling because they didn't grow up with the help they needed."
Her Indigenous ancestors were put onto reserves, which didn't help them, she said.
"That affected generations to come."
Wanuskewin Museum honoured the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation at Wanuskewin Heritage Park with a teepee raising and a prayer led by Elder Mary Lee, performances by singer and poet Raven Reid, and an "in memorial" performance by Curtis Peeteetuce.
The University of Saskatchewan's campus and buildings have been lit orange this week, with orange ribbons available to anyone wishing to tie a marker of their awareness.
Projections of the TRC's calls to action will be shown on the school's Peter MacKinnon building and main university library.
Saskatoon Indian and Métis Friendship Centre held an Every Child Matters memorial featuring speakers, storytellers, traditional drummers and artists, joined by volunteers from Aboriginal Friendship Centres of Saskatchewan. The centre also planned to host a walk of remembrance in the afternoon to raise awareness.
First Nations hold community events
While not all 74 First Nations in the province planned to hold events due to COVID-19 concerns and budget limitations, some said they would host community level events.
Members of the Star Blanket Cree Nation spent the day together as a community, praying and gathering at the site of the former Lebret Indian Industrial Residential School.
The residential school opened in 1884 and didn't close until 1998, making it one of the last residential schools to shut its doors in Saskatchewan (it was not a federally run school for its last years — administration was transferred to the Qu'Appelle Indian Residential School Council in 1973).
Michael Starr, chief of Star Blanket Cree Nation, said the implementation of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation "brings an emotional perspective for our First Nations, our Indigenous people."
"They finally acknowledged the things that have happened in these … residential school sites."
The day's events at the Lebret site included food, a moment of silence and a smudge walk.
Starr said there is still more to do to make reconciliation a reality, but Thursday was a good start.
The annual observance of the day will "help our people understand … the impacts it has had on our people and that we're still healing and we still need to work together and help one another."
Cowessess First Nation held a gathering Thursday at Marieval Indian Residential School — where what are believed to be 751 unmarked graves were discovered in June at a cemetery near the school — to observe the day by sharing pictures and offering an open mic.
Pelican Lake First Nation planned to host a walk to the nearby town of Chitek Lake.
Moosomin First Nation from Battleford Agency Tribal Chiefs organized a prayer walk. Carry the Kettle First Nation and Muscowpetung Saulteaux First Nation from File Hills Qu'Appelle Tribal Council hosted activities for kids like face painting. Another member nation, Standing Buffalo Dakota Nation, organized a healing dance and horse and wagon rides.
With files from The Afternoon Edition