Four fire keepers keeping vigil for children who died at residential schools saw their watch over the sacred fire at the Riverbank Discovery Park come to an end Friday.
Todd Bone, Tim Bone, Kendall Blacksmith and Frederick Wood together kept watch over the sacred fire for four and a half days in honour of Brandon’s Truth and Reconciliation Week. The fire keepers ensured the fire blazed throughout the day and night.
“It’s been an honour to be asked to be one of the fire keepers,” said Todd Bone. “It’s been really, really touching for me to do this. I know what the outcome of the residential schools was because of the survivors speaking and telling their stories.”
As fire keepers, the group carefully minded the fire to ensure the blaze never went out. Bone said it was an incredible experience, especially because it was one of many fires lit across Canada to honour residential school survivors and those who died at the institutions.
He added the fire created a sacred space where knowledge and friendship could be shared during Truth and Reconciliation Week.
It was an emotional experience commemorating survivors and helping lay a path to a brighter future.
“We needed to recognize the survivors of residential schools, the ’60s Scoop and everything else that happened,” he said.
Bone’s mother was a ’60s Scoop survivor and he learned first-hand what the trauma she experienced. Bone said he and his brother were compelled to help her carry the weight of the emotional pain.
“It was emotional on her behalf, we helped carry it,” Bone said.
Bone said he appreciated visitors who came to the fire with questions about residential schools, the ’60s Scoop and Indigenous teachings and traditions. The fire keepers did their best to answer any questions that arose.
It was great to see the community come down and participate in the events throughout the week, he added.
He saw many people stop by the sacred fire to pay their respects and unite together on a path focussed on Truth and Reconciliation.
Many who visited the fire offered tobacco and prayers for the spirits of the children found at unmarked graves at former residential schools across the country; standing before the sacred blaze served as a moment of reflection on the history being unpacked during Truth and Reconciliation week.
“The more we can get the truth out there, the more everybody will know what really happened,” Bone said. “Not just by the stories, but physically and emotionally what happened to the survivors. It’s time to bring it out.”
Wood said it was an honour to serve as a fire keeper for Truth and Reconciliation Week. He volunteered for the role after learning about it through the men’s group Ohitika Ogichidaa. Wood saw it as an opportunity to give back to the community.
It was a unique experience and he enjoyed having the opportunity to connect with diverse community members connected in the pursuit of learning and sharing of culture.
“I’m learning as I go along with it, it’s important for me to learn about the teachings. There’s been a lot of stuff about my background, myself, that I don’t know about, so it’s been a learning experience for myself,” Wood said.
As a fire keeper, he participated in different events throughout the week that offered amazing learning opportunities. Wood cited participating in the Teepee Challenge on Monday and the opportunity to learn and teach others as the structure was erected as an example.
“There’s a lot of background about it. It’s a great experience to help put them out and learn,” Wood said.
He also carried the Eagle Staff during the Orange Shirt Day Walk. It was an honour as he led the precision from the Riverbank Discovery Park to the former Brandon Indian Residential School.
Wood said it was an overwhelming and great experience, and each step in the walk was in honour of those affected by residential schools. He added that at points he was holding back tears as he was thinking about the children who died at residential schools.
“It was a great way to interact with other people,” Wood said.
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Chelsea Kemp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun