Chigamik draws dozens for Orange Shirt Day memorial

·3 min read

There were tears, there were cheers, there were children playing and there were a lot of orange shirts at Chigamik.

Truth and ‘ReconciliAction’ took place at the Chigamik Community Health Centre in Midland Thursday, as dozens of attendees wore orange shirts to signify Every Child Matters, in honour of the lost children and survivors of residential schools, their families and communities on the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation.

“Our community at Chigamik got together and created this event for the community; to honour the children is basically what it’s about,” said Brian George, Fish Clan (Potawatomi), traditional healing coordinator and health promoter at Chigamik.

George performed the smudging ceremony to the attendees through the event, as drummers surrounded a sacred fire in an Every Child Matters metal fire-pit donated to Chigamik by Streit Manufacturing Inc.

“We’ve been wanting a sacred fire,” said George, “and this is the first of many, I hope.”

Tanya Pinkney, executive assistant at Chigamik and chair of the Indigenous Engagement committee, said, “For today, we really wanted to mark that first step of just having people come out, show their support for the community, and taking that first pledge to reeducate themselves on the history that we were learned and taught in schools.”

Along the windows of Chigamik were orange heart and t-shirt ornaments.

“That project started yesterday,” Pinkney explained. “We sent a notice out to our local school boards, and (École élémentaire catholique) Saint-Louis in Penetanguishene responded with printing off these t-shirts. They had 80 students come and colour them and sign their name, and have a chance to talk about Truth and Reconciliation.

“That’s just a quick and easy example to show how you can support your community,” Pinkney added.

Attendees Paige and Nina said they were allies, standing in solidarity and support with the Indigenous community.

“Nina and I both work in the community with Indigenous populations, and I think it’s important we all show up to support the Indigenous people who live here,” said Paige.

Denis Maurice was handing out homemade orange ribbons to those who looked not to be wearing the representative colour of the occasion, remarking that he had to turn down all the offers for donations from those who accepted.

“I’m here because I think it’s important for us to remember, it’s a dark chapter in our history,” said Maurice.

“As a Métis person, I do have indirect ties to residential schools. One day is not enough. They are starting to bring it into the schools but it has to be a part of the regular curriculum so that we know it’s a big part of history. Our history is one-sided, and we have to get the big picture,” Maurice added.

Greg Garratt, president of the Georgian Bay Métis Council, was located across the road along the Rotary Trail at the start of the self-guided memorial walk, in which educational signs of the residential schools and Truth and Reconciliation commission were placed seven paces apart representing the seven grandfather teachings of seven generations in the past and seven generations ahead.

“For a lot of people, this education is their action and it will probably lead to bigger steps,” Garratt added.

Orange Shirt Day is an Indigenous-led grassroots commemorative day that honours the children who survived Indian Residential Schools and remembers those who did not.

This day relates to the experience of Phyllis Webstad, a Northern Secwpemc (Shuswap) from the Stswecem'c Xgat'tem First Nation, on her first day of school, where she arrived dressed in a new orange shirt, which was taken from her.

It is now a symbol of the stripping away of culture, freedom and self-esteem experienced by Indigenous children over generations.

A 24-hour national residential school crisis line to support former students and their families is available at (866) 925-4419.

Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, MidlandToday.ca

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