Honouring residential school survivors and the multi-generational damage of the institutions, Brandon will be celebrating its inaugural Truth and Reconciliation Week starting Monday.
“There’s going to be a lot of opportunity for learning experiences, which will bring understanding for those who really haven’t been immersed in conversations like this,” said Brandon Urban Aboriginal Peoples’ Council chair Leah LaPlante.
“It’s giving people the opportunity from the Indigenous side to talk about it, to talk about how it impacted them for generations and for others to learn and understand. We’re trying to do it with knowledge, laughter and talking together.”
The events begin Monday at 7 a.m. at the Riverbank Discovery Centre east picnic shelter with the lighting of a ceremonial fire. At the same time Knowledge Keeper Frank Tacan will lead an Opening Sunrise Ceremony. The orange flag, a symbol for the oppression caused by the Indian Residential School system in Canada, is scheduled to be raised at 9 a.m. at Brandon City Hall.
It will be a challenging week of hard conversations and powerful educational activities designed to bring the community together, LaPlante said. She hopes those who participate in the activities will be inspired to learn more and continue discussions about Truth and Reconciliation moving forward.
The Riverbank Discovery Centre will be the hub for events taking place during Truth and Reconciliation Week, starting with the Tipi Challenge, which takes place Monday at 1:30 p.m.
Teams from local organizations will come together to erect the teepees. LaPlante said the activity serves as a learning opportunity to explore how the structure comes together paired with Indigenous stories and history.
“Any time a group of people can get together and challenge each other, that’s when you have a little bit of fun, and you’re learning all the way through it,” LaPlante said.
Assiniboine Community College and Brandon University will be hosting four Zoom sessions starting at 11:30 a.m. Monday with Allen Sutherland, Waabishki Mazinazoot Mishtaatim (White Spotted Horse). Different Zoom sessions will be available throughout the week.
On Tuesday from 1 to 4 p.m. Dakota Knowledge Keeper Eugene Ross will be speaking during the Food and Wellbeing the Traditional Way.
Tuesday at 6 p.m. Ken Norquay, who works as an Indian Residential School cultural support provider for the Brandon office of West Region Treaty 2 & 4 Health Services will be hosting Indigenous Healing and Wellness at the east wetland viewing platform.
On Wednesday at 1 p.m. Elder Lorraine Pompana and a circle of Elders will share their Indian Residential School experiences.
A sharing circle with Canupawakpa Dakota First Nation member Noella Eagle is planned to break down “What Does Truth and Reconciliation Mean?” Wednesday at the All Nations Sharing Circle at 6 p.m.
LaPlante encouraged people to participate in these events and talks with residential school survivors to truly understand the impact of the institutions.
A Kairos Blanket Exercise takes place at 10 a.m. at the Fusion Credit Union Stage Thursday. Another exercise will be held at 10 a.m. Friday.
The Kairos Blanket Ceremony is a great tool to better understand the Indigenous experience in Canada. LaPlante said it provides a “snapshot” of Canadian history, the land and the impact of colonization.
“Visually seeing it happen in front of your eye, it really brings it home,” LaPlante said. “It shows the stark reality in a very short presentation. I would highlight recommend it.”
An Orange Shirt Day Walk is planned at the Riverbank Discovery Centre at 1 p.m. Thursday to honour Indigenous children who were taken from their homes and kept in residential schools. The walk begins at the Riverbank Discovery Centre, goes to the site of the former Brandon Indian Residential School, and back to the Riverbank.
Healing by the River will take place after the walk at 5 p.m. at the Fusion Credit Union stage. It will feature a full slate of Indigenous performers who will share their cultural traditions.
On Friday, Jason Gobeil will be providing Reading from Returning to Harmony by Richard Wagamese at the All Nations Sharing Circle at 1 p.m.
The events honouring Truth and Reconciliation officially come to an end Friday at 2 p.m. at the Riverbank Discovery Centre with a closing ceremony.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for Brandonites to learn, share and start to understand things that they had never had an opportunity to hear people sharing,” LaPlante said. “Canada across the country is looking at the residential school system with a different lens.”
Rena and Chris Hees, and their two daughters Natalie, nine, and Shannon, 12, have worked on multiple Indigenous-led projects in Brandon, including the recent installation of the Tipi Tour Legacy Project teepee at Green Acres School.
Orange Shirt Day has always been significant in their family, Chris said, and it is encouraging to see the conversations about residential schools and truth and reconciliation take on new importance this year across the country.
Rena’s mother, Isabelle, is a residential school survivor hailing from the Pukatawagan First Nation, located south of Lynn Lake. She attended Guy Hill Residential School near The Pas. Her mother now lives in British Columbia.
Rena said for years she did not know her mother had been sent to residential school, and her mother rarely spoke of the experience.
“She did explain some things, but a lot she didn’t. Who wants to keep reliving that trauma? She didn’t say much, but from what she did say it was not a great experience,” Rena said.
“We’ve been talking about how unlucky she [Isabelle] was to attend a residential school and letting them [our daughters] know a lot of kids didn’t come home and that’s terrible.”
The family continues to live through the effects of the intergenerational trauma created by the institution, Chris said.
“We’re missing a brother-in-law. He passed by suicide and it’s hard to not acknowledge that some of that isn’t tied back to what happened before.”
The impact of unmarked graves has left a mark in the country, Chris said, and the family appreciates how fortunate they are to be together because Isabelle survived her time at residential school.
“My mother-in-law’s classmates didn’t all come home from school,” Chris said. “It’s hard to get it out of your head when you know what happened.”
These experiences make it essential to ensure Indigenous culture is seen, acknowledged and celebrated as part of healing and truth and reconciliation.
These actions are critical, Chris added, because it shows his daughters their Indigenous heritage and family is valued and respected in the community.
The family is passionate about the activities taking place during Truth and Reconciliation Week and plan to attend the sharing circle, the walk at the Riverbank Discovery Centre and the closing ceremonies. Chris said they will treat the week as a time of reflection and explore how to support residential school survivors and help in the healing process.
“It will be a lot of reflection and reaching out to those we love,” Chris said. “We have to walk this path forward together. In Canada, this is the most pressing issue in front of us. Let’s move this relationship forward and let’s get it working the way it’s meant to be.”
For more information on Truth and Reconciliation Week activities visit events.brandon.ca/MasterCalendar.aspx.
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Chelsea Kemp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun