'I see a change happening': Whitehorse marks National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

·2 min read
'It fills my heart to see a sea of orange out there,' said Kwanlin Dün elder Jessie Dawson on Thursday, as hundreds of people gathered in downtown Whitehorse to mark the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. (Maya Lach-Aidelbaum/CBC - image credit)
'It fills my heart to see a sea of orange out there,' said Kwanlin Dün elder Jessie Dawson on Thursday, as hundreds of people gathered in downtown Whitehorse to mark the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. (Maya Lach-Aidelbaum/CBC - image credit)

Hundreds of people, many decked out in orange shirts, sweaters or jackets, streamed through downtown Whitehorse on Thursday to mark the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

Some had marched from Porter Creek neighbourhood into the downtown, where a larger crowd gathered at the healing totem pole at the foot of Main Street. There was a light drizzle of rain.

The group then made its way up Second Avenue to the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre (KDCC).

"It feels really powerful to have the streets closed off like this for us to walk," said Teagyn Vallevand, one of the organizers of the day's events in Whitehorse.

"Just seeing how we stopped traffic. It just feels really good."

Maya Lach-Aidelbaum/CBC
Maya Lach-Aidelbaum/CBC

Most public servants in Yukon had the day off, and many downtown businesses were also closed for the day.

Standing beside the sacred fire outside the KDCC, Jessie Dawson, a Kwanlin Dün elder, told the crowd that she was touched to see so many people there, and she offered support to those still suffering from their experiences at residential schools.

"Their lives were forever changed by their experiences. Families were changed through the generations and communities were impacted and are still today," she said.

"I am a survivor, and it fills my heart to see a sea of orange out there."

There was stew and bannock at the KDCC for those who gathered, though one organizer said they weren't expecting so many people. She joked that if the food ran out, people could go across the road to the KFC.

Maya Lach-Aidelbaum/CBC
Maya Lach-Aidelbaum/CBC

Peter Johnston, grand chief of the Council of Yukon First Nations, called it a "day of celebration."

"It's a day of celebration for all of us, because we all are one — regardless of who we think we are, regardless of where we come from. We're all human beings and we all do this for our children, and this is what it's all about at the end of the day," Johnston said.

"Today is about not only educating the future, but also telling about the past and where we've come, and we should not be ashamed anymore of who we are."

Maya Lach-Aidelbaum/CBC
Maya Lach-Aidelbaum/CBC

Dawson said the day was about telling the truth — a necessity for there to be reconciliation.

"It used to be when we spoke our truth that people would turn away, turn a blind eye to what we were saying," she said.

"Now I see a change happening. I see it in the people here today and in the people who ask me, 'What can I do?'"

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