Sudbury

Northern Ontario residential school survivor to throw 1st pitch at Jays game Friday in Toronto

The Blue Jays and the Jays Care Foundation have asked a residential school survivor to throw out the ceremonial first pitch on Friday, the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, at the Toronto game against the Boston Red Sox. Dolores Naponse from Atikameksheng Anishnawbeck will get to be on the mound.

Alberta professor will perform the Canadian anthem in Blackfoot, English and French in Toronto

Older woman wearing sunglasses stands on bridge overlooking water
Dolores Naponse, 72, of Atikameksheng Anishnawbek near Sudbury, Ont., was asked by the Toronto Blue Jays and the Jays Care Foundation to throw the ceremonial first pitch at Friday's game against the Boston Red Sox. (Submitted by Paula Naponse)

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

Dolores Naponse is a little worried about how far she's going to have to throw her "baby pitch."

The 72-year old from Atikameksheng Anishnawbeck, near Sudbury, Ont., will throw the ceremonial first pitch Friday in Toronto at the Major League Baseball game between the Blue Jays and the Boston Red Sox.

Naponse, a residential school survivor, was asked to throw the pitch by the Jays Care Foundation as part of National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in Canada.

Other survivors of the residential school system and their families will be in the stands, along with 250 children from The Jays Care Foundation Indigenous Rookie League programming.

That's how Naponse is involved. Her grandsons Jeffrey and Keewehtn played baseball on one of the teams this past year. 

Two young boys wearing orange shirts. One has his arm around the other.
Naponse became involved with the Indigenous Rookie League from the Jays Care Foundation because of her two grandsons Jeffrey and Keewehtn Cheechoo, who were on a team. (Submitted by Paula Naponse)

"I think it's a very good thing what Jays Care is doing for our children," Naponse said, adding that 28 children from her First Nation applied to play baseball with the league.

The Indigenous Rookie League encourages participants to focus less on the skill level and more on getting their community engaged. 

Naponse said it was a good way to get children away from their screens following the height of the pandemic.

"Getting them into baseball was something good for them.

"It was just so exciting to see all the grandparents, and the mothers and fathers getting involved with their kids again," she added.

Naponse will bring her entire family with her to Friday's game.

Two grandparents stand on either side of their daughter and two grandsons in front of a pickup truck
Naponse, far left, will be bring her entire family to the Jays-Red Sox game Friday night, including her husband Jeff, far right, her daughter Paula, centre, and her grandsons Keewehtn and Jeffrey Cheechoo. (Submitted by Paula Naponse)

"We're all excited right now, cause I've never been to a [Blue Jays] game before. Well, I haven't been in Toronto for a long time."

Naponse said she's nervous about throwing the ball during the ceremonial pitch and admits she asked organizers how far she'll have to throw the ball. 

"They assured me that it's not going to be that difficult."

Jays honouring 'lives impacted'

In a news release, the Blue Jays and Jays Care Foundation said "to honour survivors and all the lives impacted by the residential school system, Blue Jays employees will be wearing orange 'Every Child Matters' shirts and orange T-shirt pins, and the Survivors' Flag will be featured prominently throughout the stadium."

They added that in recognition of the 70-plus Indigenous languages spoken across the country, Tsuaki Marule, a professor at Red Crow Community College from the Blood Tribe in Southern Alberta, will perform the Canadian anthem in Blackfoot, English and French.

The Jays Care Foundation is donating $150,000 to Indigenous-led organizations in support of their critical work for survivors and their families.

Older woman and younger woman both wearing orange shirts.
Naponse is shown with her daughter Lisa Marie Naponse. (Submitted by Paula Naponse)

"I know the feeling of being there. I know the feeling of loss and loneliness," Naponse said of attending the Spanish Indian Residential School in the early 1960s.

She said she lost a lot of self-esteem and confidence after being forced to go to the institution as a child, and believes she has blocked a lot of the memories out.

"I don't remember being educated.

"I remember going to bed at night and a lot of us crying at different times of night," she said.

As for marking National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, Naponse said it's important that everyone learn about the painful history.

"To me, it's an important day because we do need to be educated on what has happened in our First Nations and to our people that went to these schools, and all the children that were buried there that were found just recently.

"I'm concerned about the intergenerational effects of the residential schools because I know how it has changed me," Naponse said.

"Right now I'm in a better place."

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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 www.hopeforwellness.ca.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Angela Gemmill

Journalist

Angela Gemmill is a CBC journalist who covers news in Sudbury and northern Ontario. Connect with her on Twitter @AngelaGemmill. Send story ideas to angela.gemmill@cbc.ca

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