Residential school survivors from Mushkegowuk communities will be heading to Parliament Hill on Orange Shirt Day.
When Attawapiskat First Nation member Junior (Gordon) Hookimaw completed a healing walk to Ottawa from Timmins, he hoped to return to Parliament Hill on Orange Shirt Day with residential school survivors to finish the ceremonial and spiritual side of the walk.
Two buses with 60 on- and off-reserve survivors will be leaving from Timmins to Ottawa on Sept. 29.
Mushkegowuk Council and Peetabeck Health Services have each sponsored a bus, while Nishnawbe Aski Nation helped with meals and accommodation. Fort Albany First Nation also helped with transportation.
Once in Ottawa, the group will set up a teepee, hold a pipe ceremony and have at least three residential school survivors talk about their experience.
The focus of this trip is for walkers to retire the Eagle staff which they carried during their walk to Ottawa, said Martha Sutherland who helped organize the trip.
“The (survivors) want this healing to continue. Just because the walk is over doesn’t mean the healing and the work on recovery will end,” she said.
Sept. 30 also marks the new federal statutory holiday, National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
In August, Hookimaw embarked on the walk in honour of all residential and intergenerational survivors and in memory of children who have been found in unmarked graves at former residential school sites across Canada. He is expected to take part in the Sept. 30 trip as well.
Sutherland met Hookimaw when she was on her way to the south for vacation, while Hookimaw and his Upcoming Warriors group were heading to Ottawa.
She wanted to support the group, so she sent out letters asking for sponsorship to help the school survivors finish their walk and travel to Ottawa on Sept. 30.
“What they were doing is very important and what they were walking for is a very sensitive, important issue to bring out, to continue talking about,” she said.
Sutherland’s uncle was one of the three children – John Kioke, Michael Sutherland and Michel Mattinas – who went missing at St. Anne’s residential school in Fort Albany.
"My commitment (is) to help those walkers that are raising the issue, opening the conversation and beginning the discourse of the real tragedies that happened at St. Anne's school," she said. "For me, a lot of the issues we see today are happening as the result of intergenerational trauma."
Mushkegowuk Council Deputy Chief Rebecca Friday said the organization "really tried to help" the survivors travel to Ottawa.
“I think it was appropriate the organizations helped fund the bus to help go to the gathering,” she said. “I think it’s very important due to the sites, graves, that are being found in each residential school, it’s very important and critical these people be at the hill to say the issue is not going to die.”
For reconciliation to happen, the government needs to acknowledge what happened, she said.
“Be honest with Canadians and say ‘Yes, this has happened to the first peoples of this land. We got to give them back their rights, their land.’ That’s what I want to see with this government,” she said.
A 24-hour housing school crisis line offering support to former students and their families is available at 1-866-925-4419.
Dariya Baiguzhiyeva, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, TimminsToday.com