IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: A version of article was originally published by ThoroldToday on September 25.
On Monday morning, an orange crowd gathered at City Hall to kick off a week of reflection, in honour of National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on Saturday, September 30.
The proceedings were led by Michele-Elise Burnett, who is the president of Indigenous consultancy company Kakekalanicks and she also sits on the One Thorold Truth and Reconciliation Committee.
“I am grateful for the survivors who have led this path of truth and reconciliation,” Burnett told the crowd. “I recognize that this has not been an easy journey but a rather painful one — but one of resilience. I ask people to reflect on the history of Canada’s residential school system, to start dialogue and discussions, to lend their ears and hearts to the survivors.”
The Strong Water Singers sang several different songs as part of the ceremony.
“We’re drumming for the children’s spirits that are up in Skyworld, for the survivors, for their families,” said Burnett.
Former City Councillor Fred Neale briefly came out of retirement to read the land acknowledgement and then it was time for Mayor Terry Ugulini to speak.
“As we continue down the path of truth and reconciliation, the City of Thorold has a leadership role to play,” he said. “As I’ve said many times: may our actions speak louder than our words.”
Burnett gave a passionate speech in which she asked non-Indigenous people to take a more active part in Truth and Reconciliation.
“It is our collective responsibility to transform how and what our citizens are taught about Indigenous Peoples,” she told the crowd. “It can only happen if we come together and find platforms to educate and create opportunities for open dialogue. We cannot do this alone.”
In 2015, Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission put forward a list of 94 calls to action to forge a path ahead, but to date, only 13 of those calls have been answered.
“Read every one of of them and find out which one you can actually put into action today,” urged Burnett. “Just imagine if each person across Canada was just to do one. We would be so much further ahead and so much closer to those 94 calls and we wouldn’t be stuck at 13.”
The founder of the Strong Water Singers, Sabrina Shawana, said that Burnett’s words had inspired her to perform a song called ‘The Longest Walk.’
“I’m the first generation of my family that didn’t have to attend a residential school,” she said. “When we think about moving forward, it’s not only a walk but kind of a hike we have to do together. We’re so busy trying to heal that we don’t want to carry the weight of the walk. If we’re walking together and equally pulling weight it would be a lot easier for everybody."
Shawana invited City Councillors and members of the Thorold Fire Services to step up and be a part of the drumming circle for the song.
“I want you to feel the energy and [represent] us walking this walk together,” she said.
Afterwards, the flag was raised, as Strong Water Singer Emily sang a song called ‘Wildflower.’
“The kids would play around the field with their siblings and that’s how the wildflowers would start spreading their seeds and grow,” she explained beforehand. “At the time the children were taken from their families is when the wildflowers stopped growing. We sing this to honour those children who passed away in residential schools.”
In recognition of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on Saturday, September 30, City Hall will light up orange every night this week.
Watch the performance of 'The Longest Walk' below: