WARNING: This story contains distressing details.
A convoy between two residential schools took place in lieu of a celebration of Canada Day on the Siksika Reserve as a tribute to members who attended them — as the country grapples with the findings of unmarked graves at former residential schools.
The convoy of cars and trucks started at the site of the old Crowfoot Indian Residential School, which was torn down two years ago.
Siksika Nation Chief Ouray Crowfoot, council members and speakers addressed attendees, who were invited to wear orange instead of red or white to honour Indigenous children affected by residential schools.
"I attended the Crowfoot Indian Residential School for 14 years," speaker Ruth Scalp Lock told the crowd.
"Most of the time, while I was here, it was all very negative. I experienced so much abuse in all forms. And when I left, I couldn't even express myself."
Over 100 people taking part then travelled to the Old Sun School — now the Old Sun Community College — where residential school survivors and Siksika Nation members spoke.
Former Siksika chief Vincent Yellow Old Woman shared his memory of running away.
"We got caught, and they brought us back here," he said. "And when we got back here, they punished us."
Blessings also took place at each location.
'It was genocide'
Myrna McMaster, 64, who was also forced to attend Crowfoot school as a child, said she usually does not recognize Canada Day.
"I always said, I'm sorry to use that term, but it was a white person's holiday," McMaster said.
This year, many Canadians also opted to forgo celebration.
Special events normally planned for July 1 were either cancelled or scaled back in many places across the country, after the discovery of remains in unmarked graves at residential school sites in British Columbia and Saskatchewan.
But McMaster said listening to the stories of other survivors is a healing experience.
"I am so happy to see the number of people that came out to support this, the non-native people," McMaster said.
"This is an educational thing for them to learn about us.… This is for the people that are gone, like my parents and my grandparents. Today, they're being acknowledged."
Crowfoot said all of Canada had been impacted by the discoveries, and stressed that residential school survivors and Siksika Nation members should look after their mental health.
"It was genocide, what was going on in these schools," Crowfoot said.
"The ones that survived packed that stuff away, and put it down. Now … that baggage is coming up, too."
Siksika Nation said it is also in the process of working with ground-penetrating radar technicians to determine if there are human remains at its old residential schools.
"This most important part is for the government and the churches … to acknowledge what happened," McMaster said.
Support is available for anyone affected by residential schools, and those who are triggered by the latest reports.
A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.
The Indian Residential School Survivors Society (IRSSS) can be contacted toll-free at 1-800-721-0066.