Gathering together in support of residential school survivors, Sioux Valley Dakota Nation hosted a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation event Thursday at Grand Valley Provincial Park.
Sioux Valley Coun. Elton Taylor said it was a positive and informative day for nation members looking to learn more about the Brandon Residential School Project — an initiative that has been underway in the nation for almost a decade uncovering information about potential unmarked graves at the former Brandon Indian Residential School.
More hard work remains, Taylor said. A major portion of the ongoing work will now involve working with other communities, where they are just beginning their search for unmarked graves at former residential school sites.
“Not only is it beneficial to us, but it’s beneficial to them because they get a head start on some of the hurdles that we have already faced. For us, it’s an opportunity to reach out and hear from other survivors that went to school,” Taylor said.
It has been a bittersweet project, but one that is essential to the community.
To honour those who never returned home from residential school, the names of children who died at residential school were read to mark The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. He added the list remains incomplete and more names are needed.
“It was emotional knowing that some of them could potentially be your own ancestors without ever having known them,” Taylor said. “It’s difficult to sit back and read that list knowing that list isn’t complete.”
Taylor did not have to go to residential school, but the last names read during the ceremony demonstrate the lingering impacts of the institution. Many of the names are shared by his friends and family, and he cannot help but wonder how they are connected.
Taylor said there are many unanswered questions in Sioux Valley, and it is difficult to process because they will likely never have the answers they seek.
“It’s our job to investigate, do the research and to see what we can find out,” Taylor said.
He added he appreciated how generations, both young and old, were in attendance for the Sioux Valley National Day for Truth and Reconciliation event.
It was essential to include youth in the day, because for many years, the history of residential schools was not traditionally taught in schools. Taylor said with all the stories coming up, there is an opportunity to learn about parents and grandparents and their experiences.
Given the sensitive topics and discussions that went on during the event, the day concluded with a round dance to leave on a happy note. He said they did not want to see people leaving with a heavy heart experiencing pain and sorrow. They wanted people to feel thankful that the community is moving forward with a sense of progression and unity.
“It’s a lot to take in, but once again it goes back to Truth and Reconciliation,” Taylor said.
The emcee of the event, Bill Taylor, said for many, it was a day of supporting survivors and giving them the space and courage to speak out about their experiences.
“I admire them for how strong they really are. I can’t picture and I can’t imagine going through something like that,” he said. “It was a pretty emotional day.”
He added it essential to ensure survivors were able to give guidance and share how they would like to see Truth and Reconciliation take place.
He added being able to attend in-person added to the beauty of the day, as it marks one of the first major community events that have allowed Nation members to unite in a meaningful way.
Bill’s parents attended the Brandon Residential School, and he thought of them during the day’s proceedings.
Marking a start to the day with sacred fire with the Sioux Valley Unity Riders at the former Brandon residential school site set the tone of healing and remembrance, he said. It was a sacred moment aiding in healing, riding in memories of those who are no longer with them, and the survivors who remain.
He praised the work of Katherine Nichols, who has been diligently working for almost a decade to bring unmarked graves in the area to life.
“I’m just hoping that we helped in some way too for everyone that’s non-native, that may not understand, to bring understanding to what’s going on,” Bill said. “I know it would be considered a very dark day in the history of Canada, but it happened. Acknowledgment needs to be there. Hopefully the work that we do today will continue and hopefully will help others to understand ... We can heal together as a country.”
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Chelsea Kemp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun