Last Thursday, hundreds of people gathered at Muskoseppi Park in Grande Prairie to honour Orange Shirt Day and the first-ever National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
Flags flew at half-mast in municipalities across the South Peace including Beaverlodge and Sexsmith and Wembley.
Schools closed in honour of the day as well.
In the evening, an event at the Muskoseepi amphitheatre was held where elders shared their stories, indigenous leaders spoke on past atrocities, and prayers were made.
“We acknowledge this day as a foundation for a brighter future for our survivors, our children and our great-grandchildren,” said Arthur Noskey, Treaty 8 Grand Chief.
He then shared the history of residential schools in the Peace.
“All of a sudden, children under St. Augustine's residential school just died off, 20 to 45 just all of a sudden die," he said.
“They suspected poison.”
St. Augustine residential school operated from 1900 to 1907 on the north shore of the Peace River.
“We entered as a sovereign people into this treaty, the bounty of the benevolence of the Queen, the bounty of this land and its resources, and we've been left behind,” said Noskey.
Elder Angie Crerar spoke at the event for almost 40 minutes; she said she has spoken to many elders and survivors and heard heartbreaking stories.
“Many of us remember that tremendous impact of children being pulled from their mother's arms,” said Crerar.
“The screaming, the sobbing, that still rings in our ears,” she said.
Victoria Wanihadie shared her family history and how her grandparents had been taken from their parents as children and brought to residential schools and had their language and culture stripped from them.
“My grandparents did not share their stories with me, and they died long before the residential school genocide was acknowledged,” said Wanihadie.
Her grandmother's brothers were taken to St. Francis Xavier residential school near Sturgeon Lake, where they died three days apart; she was told it was poison.
“They are two of the thousands of children who never made it home. The genocide didn't end there,” said Wanihadie.
Crerar explained the horrors children faced as they were removed from their parents and described it as cruel and terrifying.
She explained that children were taught to be ashamed of their families and communities.
They were taught to be ashamed of their language and culture, and they lost much of their heritage and meaning in their lives, said Crerar.
“Many of us were so overwhelmed, helpless and hopeless in their pain.
“For so many of the children, suicide was the only answer,” said Crerar.
“As a result, many thousands of our people have suffered from addiction, depression, abuse, broken families, and struggling with personal relationships. (They were) searching for something meaningful, like love, acceptance and self-identity.”
Crerar wondered how many of those children could go on to feel love.
“How can you love; when you have never been hugged or given a compliment,” she said.
“Those children, and the survivors that carry the scars in their heart, their soul and their spirit, how can we ever forget,” said Crerar.
The evening closed with traditional dancers and drummers, well after the sun had set.
Jesse Boily, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Town & Country News