WALKERTON – A group of at least 100 people gathered at Memory Lane Park in Walkerton the evening of Sept. 30, to mark the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
They came together as a community, to honour survivors of Canada’s residential schools and to remember the children who never came home.
Some brought small items – flowers, stones, and things of nature – to leave on the steps of the library as a memorial.
MC Greg McLean, principal of Sacred Heart School, Mildmay, who was one of the organizers of the event along with Brandy Patterson (Bruce County Library), greeted the crowd.
“Welcome to our commemoration of this first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation,” he said.
He introduced Aleshia Oberle, who addressed the crowd and commented on the number of people in attendance, and then special guest speakers, Carlene Keeshig and Beverly Nadjiwon, members of the band council of the Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation.
Keeshig spoke of the “little ones who didn’t come home” and said Sept. 30 was a day filled with “a lot of emotions.” She said she was honoured to see so many people at the Walkerton event.
Nadjiwon spoke of his father and uncle who were “taken away” and were not allowed to come home when their mother died. His father’s younger brother was only three years old when he, too, was taken away to the school. Nadjiwon thanked the crowd for their support. “That’s what we need.”
Following the speeches, the group, led by Nadjiwon and Keeshig, walked to the public library where they left small tributes on the steps. The crowd stood around the memorial in silence for several minutes before dispersing.
McLean said later that people have to hear the truth about what happened at residential schools. He quoted Murray Sinclair, who said, “Education got us into this and education will get us out.”
McLean told the crowd Sept. 30 is recognized nationally as the day to honour victims and survivors of residential schools. It is also known as Orange Shirt Day. The colour orange is worn to show respect and honour for those who suffered at the many schools across Canada, and to build awareness around the legacy and history of these schools.
“Today is also the day to show support and draw attention to the 94 Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission,” he said.
In May 2021, the remains of 215 children were found on the grounds of the Kamloops Indian Residential School. In response, a community memorial was placed on the steps of the Walkerton library to honour those children. Members of the community placed 128 pairs of shoes, flowers, candles, painted rocks, and other items to honour and remember the children, their families, and communities in a simple act of community mourning, and solidarity.
“To date, the number of unmarked graves being recovered at Indian Residential Schools has grown to 6,509,” said McLean.
“May these children, and the many others who have since been acknowledged, rest in peace.”
Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Walkerton Herald Times