How Albertans will remember residential school survivors, victims on National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

·3 min read
Drummers performing to honour the Indigenous children who died in residential schools on Wednesday at an Edmonton Public School Board event to recognize the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.    (David Bajer/ CBC - image credit)
Drummers performing to honour the Indigenous children who died in residential schools on Wednesday at an Edmonton Public School Board event to recognize the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. (David Bajer/ CBC - image credit)

The Alberta government, municipalities and schools have planned events that honour the victims and survivors of residential schools, as part of the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on Sept. 30.

The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, a federal statutory holiday, is No. 80 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's 94 Calls to Action. The provincial government will not observe the stat, but a number of communities and schools will.

"I see sadness, on one hand, for those that refuse to acknowledge memorializing children. It's time to honour children as a sacred bundle and gift. But to refuse to do that is very unfortunate and saddening," said Wilton Littlechild, a former grand chief of the Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations and member of the TRC.

"[I'm] happy that some have agreed to commemorate the children who went missing and never made it home."

Many ceremonies focus on the revived trauma for Indigenous communities following discoveries of hundreds of unmarked grave sites near former residential school sites earlier this year.

The Alberta government will host an outdoor ceremony with Indigenous elders and community leaders.

CBC
CBC

"We must not limit our acknowledgement to the legacy of residential schools to just one day," said Adrienne South, spokesperson for Indigenous Relations Minister Rick Wilson, in an email to CBC News.

Littlechild agrees that remembrance shouldn't be limited to one day, but the province refusing to observe the stat is "a total contradiction," he said.

The provincial government still has time to change its mind, he added.

Municipal, school ceremonies

The City of Edmonton and the Edmonton Police Service will observe Sept. 30 as a statutory holiday. City employees are encouraged to participate in online and community events, and reflect on the day's significance, said Jaimy Miller, the city's director of Indigenous relations.

The city will mark the day through a series of community events, including a proclamation from mayor Don Iveson and lighting the High Level Bridge orange.

"It [is] important for the City of Edmonton to show that we were responding to the Calls to Action and show that we're standing in solidarity with Indigenous peoples," Miller said.

LISTEN | How some are and aren't marking Canada's first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation:

Several municipalities outside Edmonton will be acknowledging the day too, including the City of St. Albert and Leduc and Parkland counties.

Strathcona County, which recognized the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation as a statutory holiday just three days after the federal legislation took effect on Aug. 3, will host Indigenous performances and family-friendly activities.

Educating people working for the county is important, as the impact of residential schools has "become painfully apparent," said Mayor Rod Frank.

"It's just time for everybody to step up and take action," he said.

Schools, meanwhile, have traditionally recognized Sept. 30 as Orange Shirt Day. But this year, schools have moved all ceremonies to Wednesday as school divisions — including the Edmonton Public and Black Gold school divisions and Edmonton Catholic Schools — observe the stat.

The Edmonton Public School Division hosted an event featuring speeches from elders and community leaders, and songs honouring the Indigenous children who died in residential schools.

"The findings of the past few months have had a profound effect on our communities and on our nations," said Clarice Anderson, supervisor in learning and support.

"May we all commit to learning from a dark past, but also commit to working together to build a bright future full of peace and promise. And the foundation of this promise is truth."

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