WALKERTON – When Bobbi Schmidt decided to organize a Solidarity Walk in downtown Walkerton on Canada Day, she expected no more than a handful of people, who would gather at the arena and walk through town to the Tim Hortons parking lot. The walk down the main street of her own town was important to her, and would go ahead, rain or shine.
The crowd that gathered to walk with her and her mother, Brenda Sharpe, consisted of a lot more than a handful of people. Many of the more than 50 people were families with young children, and most wore the orange shirts and ribbons that have come to symbolize solidarity with Indigenous peoples.
As promised, the walk was peaceful, focused on sharing the grief of families whose children were taken away, never to return, and honouring them. People walking or driving past were respectful.
At the end of the walk, the group gathered in a huge circle and shared a moment of silence in memory of the children whose bodies have recently been discovered in unmarked graves near former residential schools.
Schmidt and her mother, Sharpe, who organized Thursday’s event, put their thoughts on paper, saying, “Canada Day is the celebration of the beginning of our nation, but we are here today to remember the nation before us: the People of our First Nation.
“In school, we were taught history but not from a perspective of our Native People. These people loved their land and tread softly on Mother Earth, their lives centered around their spirituality, and thus there was respect, love and understanding of nature’s balance.”
“But their land was forcefully taken from them. They were left with small parcels of land called reservations. The government policy of poverty and hopelessness is just not talked about.
“The residential school system, I believe, is the darkest moment in Canada’s history. Between the government and predominantly the Catholic Church, the aim was assimilation. This history must be exposed, not forgotten.
“But we are not here today to blame, shame or judge. We are here out of respect, to honour the lives lost and all survivors, and we do so with deep sadness, a heavy heart.
“The peaceful walk today is to let our First Nation know our sorrow, and that we mourn with them.
“Our Indigenous Peoples’ teachings and ways of life are the way back to healing our planet. Time is running out.”
Among the symbols carried by walk participants were flags – the cross formed by the colours black (spirituality – maturity), yellow (emotional – spring), white (physical – death) and red (mental – youth) and a feather, which symbolizes honour, strength and wisdom. The eagle feather has the greatest spiritual significance because the bird flies higher than any other.
Many of those present commented on the need for acknowledgement of what happened at residential schools, of the fact this must be taught in today’s schools, so everyone is aware. Only when this happens is there a real possibility of reconciliation and moving forward.
Juanita Wilkins, a well-known local singer and songwriter, was among the people who were part of the Canada Day walk through downtown Walkerton.
Her grandmother was Métis, a residential school survivor. Wilkins said she didn’t know until she was an adult the impact the residential school system had on families. That impact has been passed down through the generations.
“It affected me, my siblings, my cousins,” she said. “My grandmother didn’t know how to be a parent. My mother didn’t know how to be a parent.”
Wilkins added, “It took me a long time to forgive my mother, but now I get it.”
She remarked on how wonderful it was to “feel so connected” by being involved in Thursday’s walk and part of the wider movement of which it is a part.
Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Walkerton Herald Times