Residential school survivors spend Orange Shirt Day on Parliament Hill

·3 min read

An Attawapiskat First Nation member says he didn’t think his vision to embark on a healing walk and bring residential school survivors to Parliament Hill would come to reality.

When 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.

His dream came true.

Residential school survivors from Mushkegowuk communities and some Treaty 9 members held a pipe ceremony on Parliament Hill Sept. 30.

Hookimaw said he was happy and grateful for the support and for the ability to get the survivors together.

“Being out there, it was mixed emotions. I know I was feeling happy. There were times when I wanted to cry. I was shocked,” Hookimaw said after the trip. “I did what I was hoping for … I knew in my heart they were healing. Healing was taking place that day.”

Two buses with 60 on- and off-reserve survivors left Timmins Sept. 29 and returned Oct. 1.

Mushkegowuk Council and Peetabeck Health Services each sponsored a bus, while Nishnawbe Aski Nation helped with meals and accommodation. Fort Albany First Nation also helped with transportation.

In Ottawa, the group set up a teepee that was about 20-30 feet high.

Hookimaw said he was surprised to see the survivors gather around.

“They were taken away when they were children, and all these Catholic things were washed into their head. Now, that they got older, all they speak about is Jesus Christ. There’s no Creator,” he said. “I was surprised that they acknowledged what was going on, that they took part in the traditional, cultural side of our heritage. They respected and they took that opportunity to close it that way."

The pipe ceremony is how First Nations people pray, Hookimaw said.

For the ceremony, men and women sat on different sides. One helper passed around one pipe among the female residential school survivors, while Hookimaw did the same on the male side.

“We follow protocols from our ancestral way. We still want to keep things the same and not lose it,” Hookimaw said. “We have a pipe that represents the Grandfather and the woman pipe that represents the Grandmother.”

Because of COVID-19, the survivors weren’t allowed to smoke the pipe.

“We were still able to walk around with the pipe, touching them on their left shoulder (with the pipe),” Hookimaw said.

The ceremony lasted for a couple of hours. Hookimaw said he spent the rest of the day helping dismantle the teepee.

There were some bystanders who stopped by to ask questions about the ceremony.

“It was something new to them. They were really happy to witness what was going on, how to build a teepee,” he said.

Hookimaw said he had an idea to start the walk two years ago. He shared the idea with his mother, who encouraged him to do it. In the wake of the discovery of the 215 graves at a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C., Hookimaw decided to embark on the journey.

He said he hopes the Up-coming Warriors movement, with events, traditional teachings and youth involved, will continue year-round.

Dariya Baiguzhiyeva, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, TimminsToday.com

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