A few hundred Calgarians gathered outside of Fort Calgary Thursday to commemorate the thousands of Indigenous children who lost their lives in Canada’s residential school system.
Sept. 30 marked the first annual National Day for Truth and Reconciliation as first responders raised a large banner across two fire truck ladders to remember those who lost their lives.
The banner named the ‘unfinished list’ contained more than 2,000 names of Indigenous children who lost their lives, including Alexander James Horsefall.
Harold Horsefall, who now works as an issues strategist with the City of Calgary’s Indigenous relations office never had the chance to meet his late relative from the Fort Qu’Appelle area. He now vows to continue fighting for his family and strengthening relationships within his community.
“It always starts with the truth and to recognize the history and the legacy that residential schools have had, but also as an extension of policy in the founding and the creation of our nation which is Canada,” Horsefall said.
“I’m just grateful that we have this event here, and I’m happy that we’re all able to come together and to do this. Let’s not let this be something that’s just a new fad, this is something that’s going to take generations to attain truth and reconciliation.”
For others like Pearl White Quills, this day finally gives her a sense of recognition and honour so that she can remember her parents, who both survived the residential school system.
She performed at Thursday’s event with her group called ‘Women of Song’ from the Blood Reserve First Nation. Together they performed a love song to share their strength and support for those impacted by injustices against Indigenous people.
“I’m the first generation of my family not in residential schools and it has not been easy for me, there is still a lot of trauma in my life and a lot of challenges,” she said.
“To be able to represent who we are Indigenous peoples and in everything that I do, we’re so grateful to be able to spread a positive image of who we are to show we have a lot of respect.”
The event was particularly impactful for the younger generation as well, including Phoenix Oulette-Young Pine from the Kainai First Nation.
The six-year-old had the opportunity to perform an Indigenous fancy dance for the crowd.
“We will never forget,” he said.
“We are so happy and proud to acknowledge the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.”
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi also spoke to the crowd, inspired by the number of children who attended the special ceremony.
He says the next generation needs to be educated on what happened to Indigenous peoples and work together to make positive changes in the future.
“Truth means telling ourselves the true stories of where we come from and for today’s holiday for I’ll be political for just one moment,” Nenshi said.
“That day when I made that gesture of reconciliation, the government of Alberta at the time, also made a gesture of reconciliation. There was much more meaningful than mine, and their gesture of reconciliation was that every child in every grade and school in Alberta, will always learn about residential schools, and will always learn about reconciliation. Don’t let them break that promise. We must fight to ensure that every child knows the truth.”
ELDERS SHARE THEIR WISDOM
Local elders are reminding Calgarians that wearing an orange shirt is a strong sign of allyship for Indigenous peoples, but listening and learning is also important to strengthen relationships in the long-term.
Elder and residential school survivor, Clarence Wolfleg shared that message upon performing a prayer and smudging ceremony for those in attendance at the Fort Calgary event.
He spent the early days of his life at a residential school on the Siksika First Nation and reflected on how the negative period in his life now compels him to share a message of hope to others.
“Let’s look at charting and working together as people that we are all people and we are all one with Mother Earth,” he said.
“The way you feel, the way you carry yourself, and most of all, your spiritual balance is important to connecting with Indigenous peoples that have experienced trauma in their lives.”
Cree/Metis Elder Kerrie Moore agrees that acknowledging the tragedies against Indigenous people is a solid first step to reconciliation in the future.
“We can’t heal unless we feel, and we couldn’t feel, because no one believed us,” Moore said.
“So I think of this journey ahead of us today and going forward because this is just the beginning. We have a lot more ahead of us, but there’s a lot more awareness.”
Finally, former Assembly of First Nations Chief, Phil Fontaine also shared remarks Thursday.
He left the crowd with a message of hope that Indigenous people will always be seen as strong contributors to society with well over 30,000 businesses owned and operated across the country.
“I’m hopeful today, because we are strong,” Fontaine said.
“And because we are resilient, the most resilient people on this land, are our people. And we will continue to grow stronger and become even more important on our lands, because finally, we’ve emerged from darkness into light.”
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