Sioux Lookout, Lac Seul residents commemorate Orange Shirt Day, National Day for Truth and Reconciliation
Tim Brody - Editor
WARNING: This story contains details some readers may find distressing.
Sioux Lookout and area residents honoured the survivors of Canada’s Indian Residential School (IRS) system and the children who never returned home, through National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and Orange Shirt Day events which took place in our area on Sept. 29 and Sept. 30.
Participants in an Orange Shirt Day Walk on Sept. 29 walked in reflection upon the Umfreville Trail, gathering after the walk for discussion and dialogue.
The event honoured Indian Residential School Survivors and Intergenerationals.
Event organizer Darlene Angeconeb, a survivor of Pelican Lake Indian Residential School, said she was pleased with the turnout.
“I think the walk was mainly for healing. It’s commemorative,” she said. “It’s for people to come and think about. There’s non-Indigenous people who came out to support it. Overall, I just hope that everybody heals a little bit.”
Schools, businesses, organizations and individuals marked the day, with people wearing orange t-shirts in a show of support, throughout the community and area.
Asked how it felt to see that support as an IRS survivor, Angeconeb answered, “I think it’s great and something that I would never have ever imagined 30 years ago. To see all these orange shirts that people are wearing, it’s a statement for healing, that it should never happen again, especially in the last couple of years when they’re finding the missing children. That’s really affected a lot of people, whether they’re Indigenous or non-Indigenous. There shouldn’t have been deaths of children. It was really heartbreaking to learn all those numbers. I really like the support that’s coming out and I think truth and reconciliation needs to happen. The education, the awareness needs to keep happening in this country.”
Dean Osmond, Executive Vice President & Chief Operating Officer, Chief Nursing Executive, Sioux Lookout Meno Ya Win Health Centre (SLMHC), acknowledged the traditional lands of the Obishikokaang (Lac Seul) First Nation in a ceremony at SLMHC on Sept. 30.
“Today, I acknowledge your sacred land, your home for centuries. I acknowledge their governing structures, language and cultures still exist today,” he said. “The Ojibway Nation is still here. They were here long before the arrival of newcomers to the continent and to this area,” he said.
Land acknowledgement he said, is an active thing. “We must continue to acknowledge all sacred lands and all First Nations. We cannot ever erase the names of the Indigenous nations and their sacred lands. When speaking to land acknowledgment, wherever you are on this continent, we all hope that you’ll learn a significant milestone in a process for truth and reconciliation, deep understanding, and a time of renewed relationships for everyone in this country.”
Sioux Lookout resident Garnet Angeconeb, a survivor of Pelican Lake Indian Residential School, shared at the ceremony, “To the survivors I say, welcome home. Welcome home. It has been a long, long journey. When you look back at the history of the Indian Residential School system, well over 100 years, with well over 150,000 children who were displaced, who by the policy of the federal government and the power of the churches, ran residential schools right across the country.”
The last residential school in Canada closed in 1996.
“Within that time, so many, so many were ripped from the arms of their mothers, from the arms of their fathers, from their communities, from their nations, and to restrict their culture, their languages, in the name of assimilation,” Angeconeb said, adding that many survivors experienced various kinds of abuse, be it mental, psychological, cultural, spiritual, physical, and sexual.
“From the dark days of the Indian Residential School system, to where we’re at today, what a powerful journey it has been with so many significant milestones that have endured, that we have crossed along the way on this journey of healing. Journey of reconciliation. Journey of leading us to eventual forgiveness, as was said by the recent visit of Pope Francis this summer. We’ve come a long ways. We’ve come a long ways as a country. We’ve come a long ways as survivors, and yet there is so much to do. There’s so much to do in the area of healing. The impacts of the residential school system are real. Some people say, “get over it”. How, in the world, do you get over the heavy scars that are imbedded in our… hearts, how do we get over historic trauma that is in many ways transgenerational,” Angeconeb shared.
“When I look at the children in this room today, my grandchildren and those other children who are here, they are our future. They are our hope that we can, as a community, we can as a province, we can as a country, do better,” he said.
Angeconeb said there have been significant milestones along the pathway of healing and reconciliation, “By having discussions, by having dialogue, you don’t know how much we heal together if we have the strength to communicate with each other in a good way. Communication is a powerful tool in our collective healing journey together, as a country.”
He added, “In 2008, the federal government issued a statement of apology. I will always treasure those words in that apology.”
He went on to share with those present at SLMHC, that the day previous, he had received an email from the office of Senator, Dr. Mary Jane McCallum.
“To be able to say that Canada, this country, is listening to us, you don’t know how that feels when the government of Canada issued that apology back in 2008. And so, I would like to share with you this news that happened about 24 hours ago… I was in touch with Senator McCallum to see if I could read this email in its entirety and share it with you.”
The email reads, “Good afternoon, Mr. Angeconeb; I hope you are well! I wished to write quickly to share some good news. Senator McCallum’s motion calling for an apology of the Senate for their/Canada’s role in the creation of the residential school system was passed unanimously by the Senate this afternoon. It is a monumental admission for a Chamber that has, up until today, refused to acknowledge their role in the creation of the system, or admit the cold realities that this system represents.”
The motion reads, “That the Senate of Canada: (a) acknowledge that racism, in all its forms, was a cornerstone upon which the residential school system was created; (b) acknowledge that racism, discrimination and abuse were rampant within the residential school system; (c) acknowledge that the residential school system, created for the malevolent purpose of assimilation, has had profound and continuing negative impacts on Indigenous lives, cultures and languages; and (d) apologize unreservedly for Canada’s role in the establishment of the residential school system, as well as its resulting adverse impacts, the effects of which are still seen and felt by countless Indigenous peoples and communities today.”
“That was passed by the Senate chamber yesterday. Coming from the shadows of darkness 30 years ago, where no one was listening to the survivors, finally, we are being listened to. Finally, the winds of change are being heard and it is each and every one of you that will carry that message going forward,” Angeconeb said.
He added, “This is really a significant milestone on this journey together where the country comes together. I think that’s so important to come from a dark time, to where we’re at today, for the Senate to unanimously pass a motion, endorsing that reconciliation is alive, is a big step and hopefully the journey of this country will gain momentum even more.”
Angeconeb stated, “We need to dialogue all together going forward. So, it opens the gates even further for this country to come together and just talk and talk about where is it that we’re going to go together as a country… As I said in my remarks, coming from a time of darkness… to where we’re at today, there’s a lot of hope. There’s a lot of hope in that Canada is finally waking up, in a good way, to acknowledge our past together, so that we can move forward together in a good way. What I’m seeing locally, right to the national level, and even internationally, we’re going forward, and we’re not going to turn back.”
Angeconeb also shared, “I think it’s really important that everybody, all Canadians, look at what we’re doing. I think we have to issue a challenge to all Canadians that they read the 94 Calls to Action by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the challenge is, what is it that individuals can do to make sure that the 94 Calls to Action are enforced, are acted upon, and so that’s our collective responsibility.”
Traditional Teacher Ralph Johnson (PaShawOneeBinace) from the Ginoosha Clan (The Great Northern Pike), led drumming at SLMHC during the event.
He shared, “I think it’s pretty inspiring for me watching the events yesterday of people that were walking, different organizations at different times, and see people wearing orange shirts. We were just talking a while back that a lot of these things were hidden from people. They weren’t taught in schools or anything, segments of Canadian society that weren’t even aware, didn’t have a clue of what was happening to the Nishnawbe people. Today the information is coming out, to me, it’s inspirational that change is coming.”
He added, “I can’t say how grateful I am for Garnet for taking the courage to speak up. I see him as a superhero for me, because he opened the doors. Before that time, you wouldn’t hear me talking about residential school or anything like that. Psychological damage was to the point that you didn’t dare talk about it. It’s opened the doors for many, for all Canadians to get to see what’s going on.”
In Lac Seul First Nation, Lac Seul Police Service officers are wearing orange during the months of September and October in conjunction with Truth and Reconciliation and Every Child Matter.
“It is important that we support these initiatives as our Indigenous communities deal with the aftermath of the residential school era,” said Lac Seul Police Chief Bruno Rossi.
Students and community members in each of the three communities that comprise Lac Seul First Nation [Frenchman’s Head, Whitefish Bay, and Kejick Bay] participated in a Remembering the Children Walk and BBQ on Sept. 29.
Kristin Ward, Assistant Director of Education, Lac Seul Education Authority, shared, “Every year our schools walk, along with community members, as a time to reflect and remember those who were lost at the schools, but also to honour the survivors and their strength and resilience. As the community continues to heal from these experiences, our school staff reflect on the impacts, and work to create school environments that are trauma-informed, and focused on the strengths and needs of our students.”
At Sacred Heart School, Vice-Principal Jennifer McMaster shared, “We had a service this morning that included prayer and a discussion assembly with the whole school around the importance of Orange Shirt Day and why we wear orange shirts and some conversations around the history of residential schools. We also had a number of our classes from Grade 1 all the way up to Grade 8 taking part in the ceremony and events at Town Beach today.”
SHS Principal Emily Hamilton added, “Individual classrooms also read literature related to truth and reconciliation and Orange Shirt Day. They also had a video presented to each classroom which included prayer service, drumming, and ceremony as well that the school board had provided.”
Pelican Falls First Nations High School Principal Darrin Head said that, “Students and staff utilized our site walking trails for a memorial walk to the Pelican Falls Residential School Memorial Site. The memorial site sits on original site of the Pelican Falls Residential School. Victor Lyon met us at the memorial site where he talked about his connection to this site and why the memorial site sits on this location. Victor shared a drum song with us, honouring the memory of residential school survivors and those that did not return home. Victor also shared the story of how this song came to him. We are extremely fortunate to have Victor visit our school regularly to share his songs, teachings, and stories with both our students and staff. Following the ceremony, students and staff returned to the school where they had some orange shirt cookies provided by our school social worker and secretary.”
He added, “For the afternoon, all students and staff joined in a Connected North Session about National Day for Truth and Reconciliation/Orange Shirt Day.”
Sioux North High School Vice-Principal Andy Schardt shared that students participated in a walk to the Town Beach on Sept. 30, to take part in activities there.
“Here at Sioux North, we have been observing Truth and Reconciliation week with various classroom activities. On Tuesday and Thursday, with the help of staff from the Nishnawbe-Gamik Friendship Centre, we were able to conduct the Kairos Blanket exercise with all of our Grade 9 students in the cafetorium,” he added.
Sioux Mountain Public School Principal Wayne Mercer explained that two Grade 7/8 classes and a 6/7 class attended the Sept. 30 Orange Shirt Day activities at the Town Beach.
“Here at school, we had events and activities for Kindergarten to Grade 6 students, which included some games and activities outside…I think the most important thing about today is we really talked to our teachers, and they in turn, to their students, today is not meant to be a day of celebration. This really is a day of reflection and learning the truth, as well as reconciliation. We had our teachers do some teachings around the residential schools and the age-appropriate information that can be shared with students, so that everyone’s aware that this is a part of our history that we need to understand and that we need to be fully be aware of.”
IRS Survivors, their families, and anyone requiring emotional support or assistance can contact:
IRS Survivors Society at 1-800-721-0066 (toll-free)
IRS Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419
NAN Hope at 1-844-NAN-HOPE (626-4673)