While some post-secondary schools in Calgary remained open on the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, others chose to close their doors.
Still, the day was being widely recognized at several universities, through online presentations and special acknowledgments, leading up to and after Sept. 30.
At Mount Royal University in Calgary, organizers of the school’s Journey to Indigenization events spread the colour orange across the campus. Linda ManyGuns, associate vice-president of indigenization and decolonization at MRU, says the orange children’s T-shirts, hanging in the trees, orange lights on the fountain, and lighting up the school, are a powerful symbol.
“We’re really trying to bring meaning to the experiences of Aboriginal people so they can be understood and we’re here to answer questions, as well. We want people to ask questions,” said ManyGuns.
“It’s just been so encouraging. Every single part of the university is involved in this and everybody is interested. I think we’re in a changing place in society and people want to know, well, why.”
Asking why and learning about Canada’s residential school system is part of the path to reconciliation. Casey Eagle Speaker, Kainai Elder at St. Mary’s University, says the stories need to be told.
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He often speaks to the education students at St. Mary’s and shares his own story of surviving a residential school. He says the students often feel a sense of shock when they hear what he experienced.
“Future teachers need to know the truth of Indigenous people. It’s been far too long that they’ve lived under this umbrella of stereotyping but it’s those untold stories that really bring light and colour back into the history of Indigenous people,” he said.
Michelle Scott, director of Indigenous initiatives at St. Mary’s, said her campus has been quite active in the time she’s been there, over the last seven years, but there is a difference this year, with the discoveries of unmarked graves across Canada. She said more people are engaged in the conversation.
“I’ve always been saying that this isn’t an Indigenous conversation, but it is a Canadian conversation.”
And it’s a conversation these Calgary educators say needs to be shared openly in our schools and with all Canadians.
As Elder Eagle Speaker adds, it’s about moving forward through education.
“We always need to move forward. You know, an eagle cannot fly backwards. It’s always going forward and that’s what we’re intending to do. Education is really one of the major steps for us. After all, life is learning and learning is life.”