If every citizen of Canada committed to actualizing one of the 95 calls to action outlined by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, says Wes Crowshoe, the world would be a much better place.
Crowshoe, a councillor for Piikani First Nation, addressed Pincher Creek residents outside the Napi Friendship Centre on National Truth and Reconciliation Day.
He told the story of his own family and the struggles they face living in the shadow of trauma, and discussed how Canada can work toward improving its relationship with Indigenous people.
As the first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation in history, Sept. 30 was a memorable moment for Canadians. People across the country gathered together to honour residential school survivors, their families and communities.
“All Canadians need to observe or at least acknowledge the day,” Crowshoe said in an interview after the event. “If everybody wore an orange shirt today, it would be the start.”
The orange shirt was made an official symbol in honour of Phyllis Webstad, a First Nations woman whose treasured orange shirt, originally given to her by her grandmother, was confiscated when she arrived as a child at residential school.
An official date of observance was first suggested by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, No. 80 of its 95 calls to action, and although this is a step in the right direction, Crowshoe said there’s still more work to be had.
“Reconciliation, it’s a healing process,” he explained. “You need to reconcile for the wrongs that you have done. There needs to be some sort of compensation in saying, ‘OK, we’re taking ownership of what we’ve done.’ ”
He said Piikani Nation is using ground-penetrating radar to search for unmarked graves on its land. There were four residential schools in the area and he said that if remains are discovered it would help shed light on a dark period of history.
Crowshoe was joined by Coun. Scott Korbett at the event. The two have been friends for more than 20 years and Korbett said he attended to show moral support.
“This is a sad time for me,” said Korbett after the event. “I find this disturbing…. It’s very clear we need to have better communication regularly, and intentional conversations.”
“It is our responsibility to let Piikani Nation lead us through how to reconcile, how to respect, what is going to be the direction,” he added. “And it is up to us to step back and honour their traditions and accept their culture.”
Four blocks east of Napi Friendship Centre, a separate reconciliation event took place at Pincher Creek United Church, which has also collaborated with Indigenous groups in the past.
“We strongly believe we cannot live without our community. We learn from each other no matter our background, culture or skin colour,” said Rev. Hyun Heo in an interview.
Peter Strikes With a Gun spoke to the congregation and his family performed an honour song.
Strikes With a Gun grew up on Piikani Nation and attended residential school as a child, where he suffered abuse at the hands of his teachers.
“We were judged, we were prosecuted,” he said in his speech. “They seized our power and our authority and they diminished our values. They put us in a box.”
The trauma he faced led to alcoholism and it took him a long time to recover.
“It’s worse than cancer,” he said. “Cancer, you get all the comfort. With alcoholism you’re alone, you die alone. It’s a lonely life. It was caused by the impact of what happened.”
Despite bad experiences, religion has helped him on his path to healing. He focused on finding values that spoke to him as an individual, he said, which meant spreading love and light to everyone.
Gillian Francis, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Shootin' the Breeze