Warning: This article is about residential schools, provoking and distressing for those experiencing past trauma. The National 24 Hour Indian Residential School Crisis Line is available at 1-866-925-4419.
The grandeur of the stories of survivors of Alberta’s residential schools came Thursday as the country marked its first national day for truth and reconciliation.
This day is intended to honor children who have been forced to attend residential schools and those who are still affected by schools.
The day has been celebrated as Orange Shirt Day in years past, starting in 2013 in honor of residential school survivor Phyllis Webstad, who took the orange shirt off her first day.
That story reached the home of Stony Nakoda First Nation Elder Valentina Fox, who survived 11 years at Morley’s residential school, 60 kilometers west of Calgary.
Fox recalled that she was eager to wear her new outfit on the first day of school, took it and poured kerosene.
“I was wearing my brand new moccasin, my brand new dress, a new jacket, and I was so excited to be going to residential school, and then I didn’t know I was going home,” she said.
“My mother died after January, and those moccasins made me last. I still think about those moccasins.”
Members of the Stony Nakoda First Nation community held a pipe ceremony and walk, which received the support of people in nearby areas.
Eva Powder, Residential Day School Survivor, was one of the organizers of the event.
“The kids who didn’t deliver it home, didn’t forget them and we made sure to bring them home and put them in their hospice,” he said.
The Shiksha nation, about 125 kilometers east of Calgary, held a ceremony on Thursday to declare it a time of healing and truth for the community.
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The parades, drumming and oranges were part of ceremonies in the countries of Calgary, Siksika Nation and Stony Nakoda. While serious, these events celebrate tolerance and public awareness of Indigenous peoples in Canada. 2:32
Chief Aure Crowfoot says the Shiksha Nation is working to turn some of the old residential school sites into monuments.
“You know, trying to remove some of the pain caused by some of these schools and turn them into a reflection area, a healing area,” he said.
“A lot of trauma, a lot of addiction, abuse that has occurred over the last two decades, this internet trauma over the last few decades … there’s a lot of abuse in these residential schools.”
For Floria Duck Chief, telling her survival story is part of her healing journey. She has lived in residential school for seven years and has survived sexual abuse.
“Today I look forward to truth and reconciliation because we want people to understand more about how we lived in residential school. I didn’t lose my language.
“My people are still there. The only loss I have seen is why do we bring punishment on homeschooling? Why do we bring about sexual harassment? But that’s part of everything we’ve hidden. That’s why. I shared my story today.”
In Calgary, several hundred people gathered at Fort Calgary for the city’s program, where they listened to Phil Fontaine, former Grand Chief of the First Nations Assembly.
Fontaine said the day was an opportunity to reflect on the collective history of atrocities against indigenous peoples.
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“Sometimes I can imagine these stories are very difficult for people to imagine. They actually happened. But they did. Many times,” he said.
Fontaine said Indigenous people still face many challenges, but they are hopeful for the future, especially if Canada learns from its history and changes.
“So when we take this special day for our people, this is an incredibly important moment for Canada. It gives us the opportunity to think deeply.”
Support is available for anyone affected by their experience in residential schools and those prompted by recent reports.
The National Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been established to provide support to former students and the troubled. People can access Emotional and Crisis Reference Services by calling the 24-hour National Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419.