'We must never forget': Hundreds come together for reconciliation walk in Saskatoon

Waves of people created a sea of orange as hundreds walked and rolled together through Saskatoon's streets for reconciliation on Treaty 6 territory. 

Sept. 30 is National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

People wearing orange shirts walk on a street, stepping over fallen yellow leaves.
People embraced and smiled as they participated in the walk for reconciliation. (Kendall Latimer/CBC)

Warning: This story contains distressing details. 

Hundreds of people wearing orange joined together in Saskatoon on Treaty 6 territory as part of the Rock Your Roots Walk for Reconciliation on Friday.

The gathering was held on Orange Shirt Day and the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation

People shared a meal at a pancake breakfast outside the Central Urban Métis Federation Inc. in the core of the city before the walk began.

Shirley Isbister, president of Central Urban Métis Federation Incorporated, said the sea of orange shows that people are listening to the calls for support. 

"For me, it means that all the education that people in our community have been talking about: residential schools and the effects and the descendants, the message is starting to get out there," she said.

"We have a long way to go but part of it is about diversity and everyone coming together." 

A woman stands for a medium-close portrait. She is wearing a jean jacket and an orange 'every child matters' shirt, with a beaded orange shirt pin attached to her jacket.
Shirley Isbister is president of Central Urban Métis Federation Incorporated. (Kendall Latimer/CBC)

Isbister said it's important that people continue to listen, so they understand why support and action is needed. Isbister has seen firsthand how the pain from residential schools carries forward through generations. 

"My mother-in-law was a residential school survivor, and at five years old, she was taken from her mother's arms, put on the back of an army truck and taken to Birtle, Manitoba," she said. Her mother-in-law was there 13 years.

More than 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children were forced to attend church-run, government-funded schools between the 1870s and 1997.

"How would you feel if you were caring for a child or your grandchild, and someone came and took your five-year-old child out of your arms and you had no say in it?" Isbister said. 

"If you look at it that way, you'll feel the pain."

A police officer escorts the leaders of a long parade of people, many of whom are wearing orange, driving golf carts and walking outside.
A group of people on golf carts (and one group pulled by horses) lead the reconciliation walk through Saskatoon's core. (Kendall Latimer/CBC)

Children were removed from their families and culture and forced to learn English and embrace Christianity. 

Many of the children at residential schools were physically, sexually or psychologically abused in a system described by the TRC in its landmark 2015 report as cultural genocide.

Isbister said Sept. 30 must be about honouring the survivors and the children who never came home. 

As the walk concluded and people congregated at a gathering in the park, Elder Judy Pelly welcomed the crowd. 

She said she had smudged and prayed this morning in her language, as she had been taught by her ancestors. 

Pelly had asked the creator to be with them as they gathered for such a momentous occasion. 

As she spoke, Pelly reflected on the people in the community who don't have a voice right now: people struggling with mental health challenges, addictions and a lack of stable housing. 

"We can't forget those people," she said. "The people who are suffering because of those historical injustices that happened to our people." 

Hundreds of people walked together in support of residential school survivors and the children who never made it home. (Kendall Latimer/CBC)

She reflected on her mom, a residential school survivor, on Phyllis Webstad, the woman whose experience at residential school inspired Orange Shirt Day, and on the hundreds of unmarked graves at residential school yard sites. 

"We must never forget the past, we must never forget that dark history."

She said that in her prayers she asked the Creator to open the hearts and minds of people as they gathered and to embrace the seven sacred teachings, including love, respect and courage. 

"We inherited a lot of this history all of us and as we stand here, we're all treaty 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 survivors 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 24 hours a day, seven days a week through the Hope for Wellness hotline at 1-855-242-3310 or by online chat at