STRATFORD – The Talking Circle Group, the Multicultural Association of Perth-Huron (MAPH) and community members from Perth County and the surrounding area came together on July 1 to honour the lives of children taken at residential schools and to recognize the work that remains outstanding from the calls to action by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
A community walk was held on along the Avon River between the William Hutt and Lakeside Drive bridges in the spirit of reflection, healing and reconciliation.
Before the walk, Todd Torresan, leader of The Talking Circle Group, held a land acknowledgement ceremony at the First Nations Medicine Wheel Garden on the grounds of the Falstaff Family Centre.
Out of respect for the health unit’s non-gathering instructions, attendance at the ceremony was limited but the public was asked to join in the walk from any convenient access point that allowed for spacing from other groups of people.
“It’s here on this same land that the healing must begin,” said Torresan. “Our prophecies tell us that when the people of the world rise up and begin standing for the protection of life the great healing will begin. For that healing to take place the people must return to the place where the initial wounding on this land took place and join together with one heart, one mind to heal all the wounds they carry within them – those carried by mother earth.”
“When they do the eastern door will reopen and we will be able to renew our sacred contracts with one another as human beings and between human beings and the rest of creation,” he continued. “The opening the eastern door will offer us a new beginning… building a new way of life for all living beings. This is the 21-year ceremony, this year, today. And we’ll travel to all the corners of this land to open each spiritual door to bring in healing energies that we so desperately need.”
“We invite people from all corners of the earth to join us in this healing ceremony,” said Torresan. “We will come together to heal the common wound that we all carry from our shared history of violence, to heal the wounds carried by mother earth and to heal the imprint of these wounds, the energy field overlaying our land. We all share the impacts of these wounds and we must all come together to heal them.”
He mentioned First Nations from the north, south, east and west were walking together for the Turtle Island Healing Walk.
“We’re all supposed to be meeting at Ottawa,” said Torresan. “We can walk together toward the fortress. So that’s the meaning of today – Turtle Island.”
Following the ceremony MAPH volunteer, Hira Dhariwal, performed a Punjabi prayer song and Torresan performed a traditional smudging ceremony. After orange daylilies were laid around the medicine wheel garden to honour the lost children who have been found at residential school sites across Canada, the healing walk began.
“I’m from Oneida Nation,” said Torresan. “This walk is the Turtle Island Healing Walk and we are doing this not just for the residential children that are lost – murdered, it’s for all of us that went to residential school. It’s our cleansing and our way of connecting the four segments, East, South, West, North.”
According to Torresan, the walk is not only for healing but also to raise awareness about the troubled history of Indigenous people in Canada and the lasting consequences it has had. “We’re trying to get the records released – things like that,” he said. “This is our healing, making people aware. We’re doing everything, not just for non-Indigenous, everybody that has gone to residential schools, like I’ve lost my childhood, my teenage years, my adult life, I’m still struggling.”
Torresan has started a talking circle that he runs every Wednesday night. It started with four members on Jan. 8, 2020 but as of July 1, there are 135 members. He said that through his partnership with Falstaff Family Centre owner Loreena McKennitt and MAPH founder Gezahgn Wordofa, the talking circle has flourished.
“We’ve already got the First Nations medicine wheel garden going, the sweat lodge is going to be coming, I’m clearing a couple of rooms and I’m opening up a healing friendship centre inside,” he said. “For a lot of people there is nothing in Perth or Huron County… I’m going to have a healing place with a sweat lodge that we can all come to and enjoy and get back to our ways.”
Torresan is an Indigenous support worker who was working through the advocacy office at the Local Community Food Centre with grant funding from the United Way before relocating to Falstaff Family Centre.
“Soon we’re going to be doing our traditional feast and also a mini-powwow,” he said. “I know all nations will be coming. I encourage all Indigenous people to connect with me, the talking circle… My email is email@example.com.”
He said that people can also contact www.falstafffamilycentre.com or www.maph.ca.
“Newcomers coming to Canada, let it be Mexican, East Asian – that’s what our medicine wheel is, it’s all four colours, right? So we welcome all nations and that’s what we do, we pick them up, introduce them, help them and that’s what else I’m helping Gezahgn with,” said Torresan. “Any Indigenous people I can talk and get them connected so they don’t seem lost anymore.”
As more people from Huron-Perth showed up to join the healing walk around the Avon River he found it hard to put his feelings into words. During the land acknowledgement and the Turtle Island Healing Walk reading there was less than 50 people scattered across the former Falstaff schoolyard but there were over 200 people in orange shirts clustered around the river.
“I couldn’t do it without my friend Dave Koert also,” said Torresan. “He’s a member of my talking circle. I want to say thank you to every Huron and Perth person that did come out to support, the Indigenous and non-Indigenous people that helped us on this day… Please, the people that don’t recognize or don’t think that they are Indigenous, my talking circle is for everyone. I am here to help and if you want to share your story with me … it’s 100 per cent confidential, what’s said is with me and me only. I do smudging and other medicines. I do smudging at home, house cleansings and other things… Miigwech.”
Miigwech means “thank you” in Anishinaabemowin. Torresan was kept busy attempting to personally say “miigwech” to each participant who had shown up to support the healing walk, Indigenous or non-Indigenous. He made everyone feel welcome and appreciated.
McKennitt was attending the walk in a supportive role during this moment in history, recognizing the role of residential schools and honouring the children who were lost. She felt very heartwarmed seeing the number of other residents who chose to attend.
“I think there are gestures and I think gestures do mean a lot – they are not everything,” she said. “I think many Canadians know that the next real task at hand is to really digest the calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and study those calls to action and see how we can encourage or embrace those into our lives and to encourage our government to get on with the measures that need to be done. I think this is a really important time for things to be done but I felt very heartwarmed that so many people turned out to show their solidarity and their respects.”
McKennitt said she cherishes Canada and finds it interesting that Wordofa is assisting so many people who are fleeing places of trouble and coming to Canada because it is a very special place.
“Myself being associated with the Royal Canadian Air Force as their honorary colonel, I’m very aware of the serving members doing a lot of very good work in Canada and abroad,” she said. “So for me personally it’s a balancing process this day, I certainly have reflected long on the wonderful things about living in Canada… but I’m also very aware… we all have to embrace reality we are at right now and move forward together.”
Wordofa said he was very glad the Multicultural Association could help organize this day to support Huron-Perth Indigenous groups.
“I know it’s Canada Day but as we are a community, as we are newcomers in the area we want to support the Indigenous groups,” he said. “I mean this is very important to (offer) support at this time and just by walking, by just talking to them we learn from each other… it is very, very important to work together.”
Wordofa said it is tough to learn about this history because it is similar to what many newcomers are fleeing in their home countries.
“They don’t think this is happening in Canada and then when they hear that and they see that in the news they don’t believe it, they are very, very shocked,” he said. “I’m shocked – very, very shocked. I mean it’s not easy. We are not politicians … but people who come out to support each other. I am so happy for all the people showing support of the Indigenous communities… we have to work together.”
Colin Burrowes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Listowel Banner