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Penticton Indian Band refuses to recognize national day as community event draws hundreds

Hundreds of people walk along Lakeshore Drive in Penticton, B.C., on Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021. Communities across Canada are marking the country's first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, honouring Indigenous survivors and children who disappeared from the residential school system. Global News

The Penticton Indian Band (PIB) chief and council said it will not recognize Canada’s first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation as a community event attracted hundreds of participants.

The PIB said in a statement that it’s “far too premature” to announce or celebrate a day of Truth and Reconciliation because there have been “no real substantive actions” to show a genuine commitment to reconciliation.

“For years we have heard the same statements and promises being made and yet everything remains status quo,” the PIB wrote.

Read more: National Truth and Reconciliation Day is not just a day off, Okanagan Indigenous leaders caution

“We as a people have struggled and continue to suffer from the effects of colonialism forced on to us by the Catholic Church and the Government of Canada. We hope that all citizens look at ways to educate themselves on the true history of what we as a people continue to struggle with.”

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The PIB said it did not want to discourage community members and the public from having events that recognize and honour the lives lost as a result of the residential school atrocity, but encouraged those participating in events to keep the message that “we are still here” and “we will never forget.”

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National Day for Truth and Reconciliation spurs calls for action – Sep 30, 2021

Meanwhile, hundreds of people donning orange shirts descended on The Peach, an iconic Penticton landmark, before walking approximately five kilometres along Lakeshore Drive to the Residential School Memorial on Penticton Indian Band land.

Organizer Anne Benn said the 6,000 steps symbolize the thousands of children discovered in unmarked burial sites near former residential schools across the country.

Read more: Is Truth and Reconciliation Day a stat in B.C.? What’s open and closed

“I thought I was just going to have a few of my friends and it’s amazing how much this has grown, so I’m amazed at the support within this community,” Benn said.

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“Today is about listening and understanding and acknowledging that we have a history that isn’t so great, and then working in a way that is very personal to make things better.”

Ron Bedard attended the walk with his daughter, Ella.

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B.C. man donates his pay for national reconciliation ‘holiday’ – Sep 29, 2021

“I think it’s one of the most important issues facing our country today — that we start teaching the children our actual history rather than what we were taught as children,” Ron said.

“We’ve learned a lot about the history of the residential schools and just everything that was wrong. It is really unfortunate, it is really sad, but I’m glad that we are learning about it,” Ella said.

The federal government announced in June the new statutory holiday to commemorate the history and ongoing impacts of the church-run institutions where Indigenous children were torn from their families and abused.

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The day is a direct response to a call to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Read more: ‘No one is exempt’: Former B.C. residential school caretakers on truth and reconciliation

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Sept. 30 is a day to reflect on the painful and lasting impacts of residential schools and to honour survivors, their families and their communities.

“We must all learn about the history and legacy of residential schools. It’s only by facing these hard truths, and righting these wrongs, that we can move forward together toward a more positive, fair, and better future,” he said in a statement.

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6,128 orange ribbons on display in downtown Vancouver to honour residential school children – Sep 29, 2021

It is estimated more than 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Metis children were forced to attend roughly 140 schools that operated across the country beginning in 1831. The last residential school in Canada closed in 1996.

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Singing and drumming were scheduled to ring out at 2:15 p.m. in Kamloops, B.C., where the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc Nation announced in May that radar had detected what are believed to be 215 unmarked graves at the site of one of the largest former residential schools.

Read more: 1st National Day for Truth and Reconciliation draws mixed feelings from Indigenous community

Terry Teegee, regional chief of the B.C. Assembly of First Nations, said it’s a day to reflect on that terrible history, and also to think about how to address the effects of 150 years of residential school policies that aimed to “kill the Indian in the child.”

A number of extensive reports — from the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples in 1996 and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls — have made recommendations to address the discrimination and harms Indigenous people face, Teegee said.

Click to play video: 'First National Day for Truth and Reconciliation' First National Day for Truth and Reconciliation
First National Day for Truth and Reconciliation – Sep 28, 2021

“We’re one of the most studied groups out there,” he said. “Yet we’re still dealing with the same old issues over and over again.

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“We’re tired of being studied.”

Ultimately, Teegee said he sees reconciliation as changing the relationships between Indigenous nations and Canadian governments to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ sovereignty and self-determination over their territories and affairs.

“This is a long-term commitment between Indigenous Peoples and regardless of what party you’re in or the colonial state, regardless of what affiliation you have.”

It’s about creating space “to be First Nations, to be Indigenous, and to be in a place that respects our identity and respects who we are,” Teegee added.

— with files from The Canadian Press

The Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program has a hotline to help residential school survivors and their relatives suffering trauma invoked by the recall of past abuse. The number is 1-866-925-4419

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