First Light is set to bring St. John's residents together Friday for a public prayer event to mark the second National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
There will be Inuit and First Nations drumming and a prayer release ceremony — written prayers are placed in a tied piece of cloth, held to the heart and put into a fire, allowing the prayers to spread into the stars.
Friday evening's public event will be held in Pippy Park. Last year, the Friendship Centre kept their memorial events to members of the Indigenous community — but Stacey Howse, the group's executive director, said the public kept asking for more education and more resources.
"The requests for people reaching out, wanting to do something, wanting to show up was overwhelming," said Howse. "It made us realize that we need to have something for those individuals to attend and to heal together and to move forward."
Howse said Friday's event is open to everyone, as the day is about education and beginning the path to reconciliation as much as it is about remembering the history and legacy of residential schools.
"It's normal to have this worry that you might do the wrong thing … or be disrespectful. But we are here to help educate," she said. "My advice would be to just show up. Ask questions, and reach out to First Light employees, because everyone is willing to share and to educate."
A private event will also take place earlier in the day for residential school survivors and other members of the province's Indigenous communities. Howse said the day can be challenging for many, as painful memories are often top of mind.
"Our residential school survivors relive a lot of pain on those days, but it is important to commemorate and to recognize their experience and to let them know that we are here. We support them, and we want to heal together," she said.
First Light will also continue selling shirts to raise funds and mark Orange Shirt Day on Friday.
Orange is widely worn as a symbol of reconciliation, following from the story of Phyllis Webstad, who had a new orange shirt stripped from her when she was forced to attend a residential school in British Columbia.
This year's First Light shirt was designed by Franke Kelly, a Grade 6 student at St. Teresa's Elementary in St. John's. The design features two shaking hands that form a heart with hearts around it.
"I knew the story of Orange Shirt Day, and I decided that that would be good for the shirt," Franke said. "I'd never really done anything that helped the community before.… I was pretty excited."
The people of this province are ready for reconciliation. - Stacey Howse
Newfoundland and Labrador's provincial government has announced it will once again observe the day as a statutory holiday, but the decision to make the holiday an annual one is still under review.
Howse hopes the province will make the day a permanent fixture.
"The people of this province are ready for reconciliation," Howse said.
"We want to support those who want to work toward reconciliation but don't know where to start. And I think that having this day as an annual statutory holiday would be an important step. However, there's still a lot of work that needs to be done."
Part of the work, Howse said, comes with proposing what First Light calls a reconciliation council.
Under the council council, representatives from the provincial Indigenous women's steering committee would work with the provincial government to implement recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.