Hundreds of Brandonites gathered for the Orange Shirt Day walk on Thursday to show support for those impacted by the residential school system.
Brandon Urban Aboriginal Council Peoples’ Council vice-chair Jeanine Pelletier said she was honoured and amazed at the phenomenal turnout that saw hundreds walk from the Riverbank Discovery Centre to the site of the former Brandon Indian Residential School.
Each step on their journey was taken in honour of children who died at residential schools and served as a time to remember families who were left broken by the institutions.
“The babies were the ultimate sacrifice. They didn’t make it home. That’s what today is about — Every Child Matters,” Pelletier said. “So many of us have had so many family members not come home.”
Pelletier said she has always appreciated the city’s powerful community.
She moved to Brandon from the North. Pelletier came to the community knowing no one but her future husband. However, the transition to the Wheat City allowed her to learn so much about her culture, she said.
“Why it’s so important to me is because my mom was in residential school since she was four years old until she was of age. So many of us have been impacted,” Pelletier said. “I’m part of the ’60s Scoop as well, being taken away and growing up in foster care.”
She added she appreciates Sept. 30 was made a national holiday because it allowed community members to gather together in harmony and healing.
“We’re so proud that we’re being acknowledged and people are listening,” Pelletier said. “People that give back and help others, that’s how we heal ... They’re all pulling together and helping each other.”
Hard work remains to continue healing, but seeing the community gather for the Orange Shirt Day walk was inspiring, she said, as people from all generations made the trek to the former residential school.
She hopes those who participated in the Orange Shirt Day walk continue talking about what they learned, fostering partnerships, attending different events and supporting each other.
It was a different experience sharing stories about the impact of residential schools during the walk, she added, because while talking with others she could feel their love and acknowledgment.
“The biggest part here is to really, really listen when people are sharing their stories because it’s very, very difficult. A lot of hardships have happened over the years. But I think it’s building, and the aura today has been amazing,” Pelletier said.
Kerri Malazdrewicz took part in the Orange Shirt Day walk to reflect on the institutions’ impact on Canadian history. She was glad to see Brandonites engage in the subject and taking time to reflect and listen to stories about the schools.
“It was powerful,” Malazdrewicz said, adding it’s critical to foster discussions about residential schools because they are a part of Canada’s history that continues to affect the nation.
“It’s not just Indigenous history, it’s all of our histories. We’re finally as a society, as a country, waking up to realize what that history is and the impact that that history had for hundreds of years on a specific group of people,” Malazdrewicz said.
Jillian Creasor said as a Métis-Anishinaabe educator, she was compelled to show the community that while people may look different, they all belong to the same community.
Creasor said she was holding back tears during the walk and was overwhelmed when they laid eyes on the orange hearts at the former residential school site honouring children who have died.
Every Canadian has been affected by residential schools, and as a nation, there is a need to stand together to move forward in truth and reconciliation, she said.
“It’s humbling to see so many people out supporting, it’s really amazing to know all these people are walking for people that they might not even know,” Creasor said.
“They don’t know my ancestors who went, they don’t know a lot of these people’s ancestors who went, but they’re here to support. They’re amazing allies.”
She added residential schools are recent history in Canada; the last institution closed when she was 15 years old.
At times, she said, it can feel insurmountable to truly comprehend the impact the schools have had in the country and the untold deaths resulting from the trauma students experienced.
The impact affects all generations that participated in the walk, she said, both those forced to attend residential schools and those affected by intergenerational trauma.
“We’re talking about people who are alive now,” Creasor said. “It’s nice to see that so many people are willing to heal and learn together. It fills my heart.”
» Twitter: @The_ChelseaKemp
Chelsea Kemp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun