CANADA – The first legislated federal holiday on Sept. 30 was meant to commemorate and honour the people who endured the residential school system and their families.
On Sept. 29, Ottawa hosted a special ceremony, lighting up the parliament building with orange lights, listening to survivors speak, and raising a new flag, the Survivor’s Flag.
Survivors created the flag as their expression of remembrance to share with the broader public. Each survivor who consulted received the flag to raise in their community for the National Day for Truth and Reconciliations’ first legislated day of remembrance.
Many of the contributing survivors hope that the flag will be incorporated at public events and that remembrance becomes a regular part of practice at gatherings.
The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation said, “The Survivors’ Flag is an expression of remembrance, meant to honour residential school survivors and all the lives and communities impacted by the residential school system in Canada. Each element depicted on the flag was carefully selected by survivors from across Canada, who were consulted in the flag’s creation.”
This Survivor’s Flag includes many symbolic and essential messages. It holds significant meaning to those people who helped to create it.
Each symbol represents an aspect of the past, the present, and the future, a true path to reconciliation and, more importantly, to healing.
Some saw the adults as our ancestors watching over us; others saw these as parents signifying whole families ripped apart and also reuniting to represent healing.
More than one child is depicted in the design as often whole sibling groups were taken from their parents, younger siblings, grandparents, and community.
The Seeds Below the Ground
Represent the spirits of the children who never returned home. Although they have always been present, they are now seen and searched for.
Tree of Peace
Haudenosaunee symbol of how nations were united and brought to peace, which in turn provides protection, comfort, and renewal.
Sacred medicine that represents protection and healing, but also what is used by some Indigenous cultures when one enters the physical world and then again when they pass on to the next (i.e., medicine bath). The seven branches acknowledge the seven sacred teachings taught in many Indigenous cultures.
Represents Sun, Moon, Stars, and Planets. The Sun represents the divine protection that ensures those who survived came home. The North Star is prominent as it is an important navigation guide for many Indigenous cultures.
The Métis Sash
The Sash is a prominent ceremonial regalia worn with pride. Certain colours of thread represent lives that were lost, while others signal connectedness as humans and resilience through trauma. All the threads woven together spell out part of history, but no single thread defines the whole story.
The Eagle Feather
The Eagle Feather represents that the Creator’s spirit is among us. It is depicted pointing upwards which mirrors how it is held when one speaks their truth.
Inuksuit are used as navigational guides for Inuit people and link to tradition.
The Honourable Levinia Brown, Inuk survivor who attended Chesterfield Inlet Residential School, said, “This project came about at a time when the grief survivors carried, as well as that of the families of those who were lost, came back to the surface. The news that children lay in unmarked graves was not unimaginable to us as survivors because our memories of these schools are marked by abuse, pain, neglect and profound loss. It was important that the design show the missing children are present because there is much work ahead of us and their memory must also be part of that work.”
Arthur Steinhauer, Cree Survivor who attended Blue Quills Residential School, said, “Creating a flag in honour of survivors and those who did not return is very special. For me, the design symbolizes remembrance, hope for family, love and peace. It is a beautiful reminder of where we’ve been and who we are, as well as the goal of where we should be headed.”
This marks the completion of Call to Action No. 80. However, questions have arisen about the sincerity of the government’s commitment to Truth and Reconciliation after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took a vacation with his family, issuing a formal apology when he returned.
The Assembly of First Nations National Chief RoseAnne Archibald released the following statement in response to Trudeau’s apology.
“As I stated to the Catholic Church, hollow apologies will no longer be accepted. As National Chief, on behalf of all First Nations, I expect concrete action and changed behaviours. The Prime Minister must demonstrate through actions that he is committed to the healing path forward.”
Archibald also called upon media outlets to do better, saying, “Let’s remember that Truth and Reconciliation is about survivors and those children who died in the institutions of assimilation and genocide. Therefore, I ask media outlets to give as much time to survivors’ stories as they are giving to the Prime Minister’s behaviour on Sept. 30.”
You can view Survivors stories, get updated on the progress of the Calls to Action, and much more at https://nctr.ca/.
The NCTR is a place of learning and dialogue where the truths of the residential school experience will be honoured and kept safe for future generations.
Cory Bilyea, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wingham Advance Times