In marking the second annual National Day of Truth and Reconciliation, Londoners gathered on The Green at Wortley Village to share their respects for those affected by Canada’s residential school system.
Atlosa Family Healing Centre, along with Oneida Nation of the Thames, Chippewas of the Thames First Nation, Southwest Ontario Aboriginal Health Access Centre, and the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians, invited those across the city of London to honour past and present relatives.
J. Todd Cornelius, chief of the Oneida Nation of the Thames, thanked all those who attended Friday’s event.
“While today is an important day of truth and reconciliation, it is only one day of 365 in remembering the children who were taken from us,” he said.
“The journey has been long, traumatic and intergenerational for many, but there is much to be done in achieving reconciliation, and the strength of our ancestors to our loved ones is needed more than ever.”
Surrounded by some residential school survivors, jingle dress dancers performed in front of a gathering crowd of orange shirts. The dance represents healing, pride, as well as a spiritual form of wellness and celebration in linking the past to present in helping to “move forward with strength and hope.”
Organizers of the gathering said that the dresses, also known as Prayer Dresses, are lined with rows of metal cones, creating a melody as the dancers move to “mimic the sound of falling rain.”
Debwaywin and Tahlalmna Miskokowa said they have both been dancing for years and commented on the amount of people who attended in support.
“It feels not only welcoming but feels amazing for myself and a lot of other Indigenous people,” Debwaywin said.
“The more events we have, the more awareness is spread, and the change gets bigger, which says a lot,” Tahlamna added.
The gathering also featured singing, prayer, traditional Indigenous food and various information booths.
Jake Martell, literacy coordinator at Nokee Kwe London Employment and Information Centre, stood at a booth of his own, expressing the importance of striving toward reconciliation through education.
“I’m glad that Canadians have taken action to try and make this a bigger day because, hopefully, we reach more people,” he said.
Established in 1987, Nokee Kwe is a charitable non-profit organization that works to deliver employment, training and transitional services to Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth, as well as adults in London and the surrounding community.
Displayed across his table were books titled In Memory of Feast by Judy Reuben, Mohawk from the Turtle Clan, a collection of “childhood food memories” of residential school survivors.
According to Martell, this book shows children detailing and remembering pleasant times with their family by gathering around the dinner table in sharing traditional Indigenous food prior to entering the school system.
“It gives them an opportunity to speak their truth which is what today (National Day of Truth and Reconciliation) is all about,” he said.
For Lori George, of Oneida of the Thames First Nations, speaking her truth is exactly what she plans to do.
“It’s hard for me to come out and I don’t think people really understand the effects of residential schools,” she said.
George said that her father was not only sent to a residential school, but later sent to prison just like “a lot of young Indigenous adults at that time.”
“My mother passed away before I could get the whole story, but I didn’t even know what residential schools were until I was about 14,” she said. “I cried and I didn’t understand.”
Having recently lost her brother to suicide, George said that while her family, like many others, continue to grieve, she feels compelled to show up to these events and gatherings in support of herself and others.
“When I see those coming forward with their orange shirts, people asking questions, people coming out to these booths, it shows that people want to learn,” said Elyssa Rose, Indigenous advocate and anti-human trafficking co-ordinator for Atlohsa.
“Every single time that someone comes out and they learn anything, they get to be part of something like this,” she continued.
“They’re breaking down that barrier of what was there through colonization, through intergenerational trauma, so having this really allows us to be able to be together and have that connectedness.”