University of Lethbridge student Chataya Holy Singer designed the t-shirt being worn by many in Lethbridge on Thursday, the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
The young artist says she hopes the day — also known as Orange Shirt Day — encourages people across the country, and in southern Alberta, to support Indigenous businesses and amplify Indigenous voices.
“In the spirit of truth and reconciliation, it would be really important for non-Indigenous people to engage with our community, with the Indigenous peoples,” Holy Singer said. “And if you have any questions, don’t be afraid to ask, because we’re willing to share.”
“Truth and Reconciliation Day is a national symbol of resilience, and how far we have come.”
For those wanting to listen and learn, many were sharing their stories in downtown Lethbridge on Thursday, gathering at Galt Gardens throughout the afternoon.
Elaine Creighton Fox was one of numerous speakers, she recounted some of her memories from a childhood that included six years at St. Mary’s residential school on the Blood Reserve.
“I remember growing up on the reserve, the fields where the grass was just flowing, and I was his age when I was taken away from that,” she said, motioning to her young grandson. “No explanations.”
Creighton Fox says she’s teaching her grandchildren the Blackfoot language as part of her continual healing process, one that she said has made her realize the importance of her roots.
“All I remember is being brought to this big brown building — that was my first encounter with our white brothers and sisters — and after that is when my spirit was broken,” she said.
“It’s taken me a long road of recovery, and big time healing for me is connections, reconnections.”
For Margaret Potts, the months since 215 bodies were found in unmarked graves at a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C. have been extremely emotional.
Potts says her mother is a residential school survivor who believes that healing can be done, as long as people have open hearts.
“A lot of people are still needing to be educated, and there’s a lot of reconciliation that needs to be done,” Potts said.
“The only way that’s going to happen is people let us tell our truths, and they have some empathy and compassion to what has happened in the past, and for us to start healing.”
Thursday’s event at Galt Gardens was organized by a group of Piikani Nation members who have recently established a non-profit called We Will Recover Addiction Support Services; the group has been fundraising by selling orange t-shirts.