In Yellowknife on Saturday, dozens of people gathered at the N'dilo gym to honour survivors of residential schools and mourn the children who never made it home.
N'dilo Chief Fred Sangris gave the opening remarks as attendees stood in a circle around a sacred fire.
"Right across the country, truth and reconciliation is happening. But we can never bring back those children…," Sangris said.
"Even though it's a sad time in our lives, we're going to be opening up and talking about the residential schools, to get truth for the many Canadians like yourselves who should know the truth."
The gathering, which was organized by the wellness team at Yellowknives Dene First Nation, was one of many events held across the territory this week for the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
It started outside with opening remarks and drumming from the YKDFN drummers. Then everyone moved inside the N'Dilo gym, where there were presentations from guest speakers and a sharing circle where survivors and those who lost family members at residential schools got a chance to be together and tell their stories.
Dettah Chief Ernest Betsina and N'dilo Chief Fred Sangris (right) gather around the sacred fire. (Sarah Krymalowski/CBC)
Residential school survivor and Dene National Chief Gerald Antoine was one of the guest speakers. In an interview with CBC before the event, he called it a 'special' day.
"When I saw the colour of orange this morning there, it just really enlightens me and lifts me up," he said.
"Today is making me very hopeful that with creating and fostering the relationships forward in a good way, it's going to make us have a better future."
Looking for change
But for some survivors of residential schools, the day can be painful.
In Fort Smith, N.W.T., residential school survivor and retired educator, Pauline Tardiff, said that she struggles with her residential school memories that resurface around orange shirt day and the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
Tardiff was first taken to residential school Grollier Hall in Inuvik when she was nine years old. Both her parents and all but two of her ten siblings went to residential school. The two who did not go, her youngest siblings, were able to go to school in their home community of Aklavik until high school, when they were forced to move to Inuvik on their own to attend high school.
"I never tire of telling the fact that I'm not sure we're as far ahead as we'd like to be. I still feel so jilted by the system … I'm from a family of 11, and there's only two of us left," she said.
Tardiff said that she will keep telling her story, but she wishes that change would come more quickly.
"I think that today is about other people learning about us…I wish it would be more about how systemic barriers are torn down. An apology is only an apology if things are done to make it right."
Residential school survivor Lucy Jackson told CBC that in her home of Fort Good Hope, N.W.T., the ceremony was rescheduled until next week because a young man had died.
She said National Day for Truth and Reconciliation wasn't too significant for her, but she spoke strongly about reconciliation means for her.
"For me, it's about restitution... Our grandchildren, our future generations, need to know the refinements of what it is to be Indigenous people, the refinements of our culture, the refinements of how we grew as children when we were with our parents," she said.