Pikwakanagan -- There was a sea of orange shirts and lights along the shores of Golden Lake near the cultural grounds as the sounds of drums rang out, candles were lit and tears were shed remembering the children who died and were buried in unmarked graves at residential schools.
There was also the sound of laughter as children played by the water and helped hand out candles and orange flowers, a visual reminder of the next generation of First Nations children growing up in a hopefully far better world.
This was a Canada Day like no other across the country and the small community of Pikwakangan galvanized not only their friends and neighbours around Golden Lake, but also many in the Ottawa Valley and across Canada with an invitation to a candlelight vigil and drumming ceremony heard at their own home, cottage or dock.
Locally, boats were visible off shore and there were lights twinkling across Golden Lake. For this was not an insular or community-only event, but a time to share and send drums and healing songs out across the lake, acknowledging the grief and sorrow so many non-Natives have felt about the discovery of the unmarked graves of so many children in different locations in Canada and the realization more graves will be discovered.
The community issued the invitation earlier in the week and it had travelled the globe quickly through social media with many people saying they would be lighting candles and remembering with Pikwakanagan even if they lived very far away.
“It’s very emotional and overwhelming,” Communications Manager Lisa Meness said. “Just the amount of response we had to this.”
The community had issued an invitation on Sunday asking neighbours and friends around Golden Lake to “light up the lake” on Thursday night with candles at 8:30 as a vigil. This was done because of the overwhelming amount of support the community had received and people asking what they could do to show support.
“We had so many words of sympathy,” she said. “People wanted to help. So we came up with the idea of a candlelight vigil and it evolved to ‘Light Up The Lake’ and it grew.”
When the invitation was sent out for the event it quickly went viral.
“The shares were close to 90,000,” she said. “After the first four hours it was 10,000 shares and it kept going.”
Because of the interest in the event, in which they had stipulated they did not want people to come to Pikwakanagan because of COVID-19 distancing restrictions, there was live streaming for others to be able to participate. Ms. Meness said this was not only for community members but others who wanted to participate.
The community has been receiving messages of support from all over, she said.
“Even the townships have picked up on this,” she said.
As a community member she said she was very moved by the supportive response from their neighbours and others farther away.
“The reaction we got to our invitation, we are totally amazed,” she said. “We just can’t believe it.”
Every Child Matters
Ms. Meness explained they had formed an “Every Child Matters” task force at Pikwakanagan in response to what was happening in Canada and this was part of what emerged from this.
“The purpose is to provide support in this time of grief,” she said.
Prior to the candlelight service the people in the community gathered at the cultural grounds to support each other, dance, enjoy the drums and be together.
“This was all quickly developed,” she said. “And there was great support.”
While some people came in regalia there was also a lot of orange with some t-shirts noting they were honouring the community’s own Joey Commanda, who never made it home from residential school. Ms. Meness said they were recently able to find his “number” which was quite significant for them. His number was 60. In some residential schools the children were referred to by number instead of by name. Young Joey, who was a young teen, ran away from the school and was hit by a train and killed.
Ms. Meness said talking about these issues has brought the community together and been very important. As well many groups have come together working on these initiatives. A larger event is in the works for Orange Shirt Day on September 30, she added.
Last Thursday night both Bear Nation and the Kichisiperini Drums participated at the cultural grounds for the community time. When the gathering moved to the shores of Golden Lake, Bear Nation drummed and following this moved to a boat to carry the drums across Golden Lake. They had a scheduled route planned which went from Pikwakangan at Pik Fuels launch to Gulley’s Bay, Ruby Road, across to the Golden Sands and then to MacMillan Road.
As candles were lit on the shores of Pikwakanagan, the Pikwakanagan Wildflowers sang and other women drummed with smaller drums. The orange flower petals were released into the water as the sun set over the lake.
Sisters Diane Cooke, Joanne Whiteduck and Barbara Cooke are the daughters of residential school survivor Rita Cooke. They were participating in the event at the cultural grounds and were so moved by the support from in the community and outside the community.
“This is a beautiful thing to happen,” said Barbara.
Chief Wendy Jocko spoke briefly following the drumming at the lake. She thanked the organizers and the people who had participated. She noted this was standing in solidarity with others on Turtle Island.
“Thank you to our neighbours for sharing in solidarity with us in this very sad time,” she said, becoming quite emotional.
“It is okay if you are not okay,” she added. “We are here to support you.”
Debbi Christinck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader