Thunder Bay

Orange Shirt Day Walk of Healing ends at former residential school site in Thunder Bay, Ont.

First Nations leaders, Thunder Bay municipal officials and educators will mark the Every Child Matters Walk for Healing on Friday by marching from city hall to the site of a former residential school.

Students at Kakabeka Falls public school marked the day early to avoid P.A. day

Orange shirt day is to remember the experiences of former students of Indian Residential Schools and to commit to ongoing reconciliation. (Terry Mario)

First Nations leaders, educators and municipal officials in Thunder Bay, Ont., will mark the Every Child Matters "Walk for Healing" on Friday by marching from city hall to the site of a former residential school.

The national event, also called Orange Shirt Day, is in honour of Phyllis (Jack) Webstad, whose new orange shirt — a gift from her grandmother — was taken from the six-year-old girl on her first day at residential school.

That experience resonated with some students at Kakabeka Falls District Public School, said Jason Wilton, who teaches grades 3 and 4, and whose students participated in an Orange Shirt Day walk on Thursday, because Friday is a P.A. day.

Wilton was motivated to help organize the event because he believes it will increase understanding, empathy and awareness about the history and impact of residential schools.

"One particular student said if she was at that school she would have run away or she would have said no and sharing with her that yes, some students did do those things. was quite emotional for her," he said.

"So I think the students could really relate to the experiences of being taken from their family and not seeing them."

Wilton said it's important to teach children about Canadian history, so they can avoid the mistakes made in the past.

Nishnawbe Aski Nation Deputy Grand Chief Anna Betty Achneepineskum took part in Friday's walk.

"This walk is to honour our mothers, fathers, brother, sister and grandparents especially those that did not return from Indian Residential Schools," she was quote as saying in a press release issued by NAN on Friday.

"These events are vital and must continue. The horrific truth of Canadian history must be told."

People are now encouraged to wear orange on the day to remember the experiences of former students of Indian Residential Schools and to commit to ongoing reconciliation.

Alvin Fiddler, the Grand Chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, at an Orange Shirt Day event in 2014. (Matt Prokopchuk / CBC)

Friday's walk started at noon at city hall and ended at Pope John Paul II Senior Elementary School in Thunder Bay, which used to be the site of the St. Joseph's Indian Residential School.

According to NAN, there are six documented cases of Indigenous children dying at the school, and 16 are still unaccounted for.

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