A large orange banner with the names of more than 2,800 children who died at residential schools in Canada — as well as blanks to symbolized those not identified — was hung at Fort Calgary on Thursday.
Hundreds gathered at the historic confluence of the Bow and Elbow rivers to mark the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
The banner, and the Calgary fire crews who held it, were blessed by Siksika Elder Clarence Wolfleg, in a smudging ceremony ahead of the city’s event.
Phil Fontaine, former chief of the Assembly of First Nations and member of the Order of Canada, called Thursday a “special day for our people.”
“It’s also a moment for the country, so that Canada can reflect with us on our collective history. The history that hasn’t been kind to us,” he said.
Fontaine said all those at the Calgary gathering were good people who know about the suffering Indigenous people have had to endure.
He said he could spend “endless hours” talking about the many layers of pain and shame Indigenous people are shrouded in, and issues like the roughly 30,000 children in care today, the poor housing conditions and homelessness First Nations people experience, and most recently, about discoveries of unmarked graves at former residential schools.
“These are all major challenges that are before us. These challenges are not going to disappear on their own because someone wills it,” he said.
“It’s going to require a very deep and concerted effort on the part of all peoples to address these issues.”
Fontaine said he was “extremely hopeful,” however, on the country’s first day dedicated to recognizing and honouring those struggles.
“I’m hopeful because we are better educated. We are able to stand on our two feet. We are more involved, more engaged in the political process. We’re engaged in businesses,” he said.
“And we’re very much in the minds of Canadians, because they can’t avoid turning their eyes away from and listening to the many stories that are emerging daily about our people.
“I’m hopeful today because we are strong and we are resilient. The most resilient people on this land are our people.”
Speaking at the ceremony, outgoing Mayor Naheed Nenshi encouraged Calgarians to read the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report, to identify ways they can “make those actions real in your own lives.”
“From supporting Indigenous entrepreneurs, to ensuring that we are always supporting organizations that are doing the good work of healing that trauma,” he said.
“Listen to the stories. Listen to the elders, listen to the songs, listen to the knowledge keepers, listen to the stories.
“Teach your children. Understand that today is not just a day to wear an orange shirt. Today is a day to commit ourselves to what that orange shirt means for every single one of us.”