By Tanjina Tahsin
The Indian Residential School educational system played a remarkable role in undermining Indigenous knowledge, language, and cultures and forceful assimilating Indigenous children to the colonization system. All these restricted the accessibility of Indigenous knowledge, language, and cultures to future generations. Ever since the closed down of the Residential Schools (in the late 1990s), the survivors of these schools have been sharing their personal stories of sexual, physical and emotional abuse by the teachers and administrators (1). The legacy of the annihilation is still going on through discovery of unmarked graves (215 in Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia2 and 751 at a cemetery near the former Marieval Indian Residential School, Saskatchewan (3) ) of children on or near the residential school’s ground. Searches are still going on and so are the counts of children found.
On September 30, 2021, the annual commemoration of first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation was marked to honour the children who died while attending residential schools and the survivors, families and communities who are impacted by it. On Thursday morning, a healing walk began outside the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and continued north to St. John’s Park, where a powwow along with other ceremonies were followed later in the day. Wa-Say Healing Centre in partnership with Aboriginal Health & Wellness and the Anish Corporation arranged Every Child Matters powwow at Winnipeg’s St. John’s Park on Main Street. Thousands of people joined the walk and later in the St. John Park. Indigenous people, communities across Manitoba joined the walk and gathering but it was not limited within the Indigenous people. People regardless of their race, gender and age gathered to honour the residential school victims and survivors. Indigenous people here acknowledged the day as “not a celebration but a recognition”. In the St. John Park, an hour after noon, the powwow started with grand entry, not only powwow dancers entered but also community chiefs, elders, veterans, and leaders.
Followed by the powwow, chiefs, elders, veterans and leaders and dancers introduced themselves and their communities. While recognizing the survivals, they also mentioned that they regarded this land not as a country or a nation but “a Turtle land, a land which has no borders, and all the nations are brothers”. After that, at first the survivors of Sixties Scoop subsequently all the residential and day school survivors who were attending were asked to gather in the center of the powwow ground and honoured with songs. Before the songs, everybody was asked to stand up, took off their hats and pay respect and honour to the survivals. It was an incredible moment- a very long due recognition. Since it was also Orange shirt day- (an Indigenous grassroots-led day of remembrance and a symbol that depicts the Indigenous children traumatic experience over the years) people were encouraged to wear orange. Hence, the whole park ground representing orange and honoring the children those who made it home and those who did not.
1 Walker, J. (2009). The Indian Residential Schools. Truth and reconciliation commission. Legal and Legislative Affairs Division, February, 1–12.
2 National Post. (2021). Residential school remains could reveal how 215 children lived — and died, experts say. Retrieved June 14, 2021 from https://nationalpost.com/news/canada/forensic-probe-of-residential-school-graves-could-reveal-much-about-tragic-lives-experts-say
3 CBC. (2021). Sask. First Nation announces discovery of 751 unmarked graves near former residential school. Retrieved June 24, 2021 from https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/cowessess-marieval-indian-residential-school-news-1.6078375