Survivors of the Indian residential schools and Elders led the walk. The voice of the drum rang out across the Bow River. Carrying honour sticks, we walked from the federal government building to Fort Calgary.
On June 11, 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper stood in the House of Commons and apologized for the horrors inflicted by governments on generations of indigenous peoples. Our walk to the fort was to remember that day. It remains to be seen how governments — and we — will walk the talk.
Walkers carried handcrafted honour sticks. Decorated with paint and symbols, each carried yellow, red, black and white ribbons, the colours of the Four Directions. An attached eagle feather replica fluttered in the breeze; on each was printed the name of an Alberta Indian residential school, 27 in all.
The fort’s theatre was filled with more drumming and prayer, then we read aloud the name printed on our feather, bringing the residential school children powerfully to mind.
I wish every Canadian would attend ceremonies such as these to hear the stories, pray together and remember the children. My partner Bill Phipps, who had delivered The United Church Apology to Indian Residential School Survivors when he was moderator, read aloud part of that apology. Marvin Fox, himself a survivor, told stories of his experience and also of Blackfoot history in Calgary. A film, feast and conversation ended the afternoon.
On November 11, we remember war and peace. On June 11th, we remember why church and government apologies are necessary. We remember, too, that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is today travelling around Canada, providing a way for us to move forward in honesty and hope.
Our 1998 Apology concludes, “We pray that you will hear the sincerity of our words today and that you will witness the living out of our apology in our actions in the future.” The opportunity lies before us. There are still many Canadians who don’t know what the residential school system was, and that the last one only closed in 1996.
There was one honour stick that did not have a name printed on the feather. The stick was plain and old. It represented the children who went to school and never returned.
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