Indigenous community in Toronto holds honour walk to remember residential school survivors

Members of Toronto’s Indigenous community organized an honour walk in commemoration of the survivors of Canada’s residential school system on Sunday. The walk began at Coronation Park, looped around Ontario Place, and ended back in the park.

It was organized by volunteers and community-based Indigenous food sovereignty support group Dashmawaan Bemaadzinjin (They Feed the People). One volunteer, Diane Simon, said the honour walk serves to give the community some space and time to pay respects to the survivors of residential schools.

“We decided to have an honour walk today to create community space and take time to remember our family members and ancestors who attended residential schools,” Simon said. 

“We can look at residential schools and say how tragic and how painful that was, but we have to also look at the conditions that Indigenous peoples are facing today.”

Volunteer Diane Simon explains the route to participants of the honour walk on Sunday at Coronation Park. (CBC)

Many Indigenous communities across the country remain under boil water advisories and lack clean drinking water. Families also live in overcrowded and substandard housing conditions and racism is a daily reality for Indigenous people, Simon explained.

One of many examples is racism and misunderstanding experienced in health care, she said. Another is identity and status cards being dependent on who the federal government determines is an Indigenous person.

Treaty rights are dishonoured, she said, leading many to challenge the courts in another “biased system,” Simon explained.

“I’d like to be in a place where we can have greater conversations and more coming together,” she said.

Responsibility to learn

The honour walk was just a small moment where some did just that.

The walk followed a traditional drumming ceremony and a tobacco offering. Some walked, others ran, but the common thread was of remembrance and a connection to the land.

Simon said her and many others from the Indigenous community spent the last week — marked notably by the country’s first Truth and Reconciliation Day — educating people about residential schools and sharing stories.

But it’s a lot of work, and it’s not their role to do so, Simon said.

“I’m happy everyone is learning about residential schools,” she said. “I think it’s really important that people want to learn but they really have to do a lot of that learning on their own.”

There’s lots of accessible information, and many Indigenous authors and filmmakers whose work is available to read and watch, she said. 

“I think people have to take that responsibility on themselves to become informed, educated, and empowered to take action,” Simon added.

Participants ran or walked from Coronation Park, around Ontario Place, and back to the park as part of the event in remembrance of residential school survivors. (CBC)

When asked about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s family vacation in Tofino, B.C. on Truth and Reconciliation Day, Simon said it was insulting.

“It takes away the meaning of what the day is,” she said.

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