Some time ago, Councillor Kristen Strackerjan raised the possibility of the Municipality marking Truth and Reconciliation Day and, supported by her Council colleagues and municipal staff, decided to make Indigenous issues a focus of municipal attention. Last Thursday, September 30, the most public step to date in following that plan took place outside the Municipal Centre. Mayor, Council, staff, residents and many others gathered in a ceremony to recognize the impact of Residential Schools on Indigenous people and to raise the Every Child Matters flag outside the building.
Before the flag raising, a number of guest speakers spoke to those assembled. Bill Montgomery, a member of the Haida nation and Indigenous Education Lead with the Upper Canada District School Board, shared many of the negative experiences of children in the schools, and the long-term, multi-generational impact these have had on Indigenous families and communities. The main lesson, he said, was that “Hurt people hurt people”, as patterns of abuse learned and experienced in childhood can be passed down through generations. Being punished, often severely, for speaking your language in schools made adults unwilling, or unable to identify with their own culture, and this fear of punishment was also transmitted to their children and grandchildren. However, Bill pointed out, the program of Indigenous education has opened the way for people to reconnect with culture and traditions and has enabled a process of healing to start.
Lorraine Rekmans, Anishinabe from Serpent River, President of the Green Party of Canada, and North Grenville business owner, spoke of the hurt inflicted on Indigenous people who were yet willing and open to work with the settler community to find reconciliation together. But, she insisted, reconciliation has to be based on truth, on an agreed understanding of what has happened.
The next speaker was Finian Paibomesai, noted award-winning Anishinabek artist from Whitefish River and a resident of North Grenville for many years. He found a home here and has the freedom to express his cultural identity in his art. Reconciliation is something that requires mutual recognition and respect between peoples.
Politicians Steve Clark, M.P.P., and Michael Barrett, M.P., each spoke briefly without much content. Dr. David Shanahan has spent half his life working for and with Indigenous communities and noted in his remarks the fact that, although the Residential Schools are closed, the issue is not. Successive Canadian governments had been informed about the grave sites at the schools, and were repeatedly asked to ensure that they were not forgotten, overgrown, or even built over, but nothing was done. Canadians could no longer claim ignorance of this history, and could no longer remain silent or passive. Governments needed to be reminded of their responsibilities, or this issue, too, could be forgotten.
Throughout the gathering, Bill Montgomery was holding a Smudging ceremony, and individuals took part in the ceremony as the speakers spoke. There were indigenous and non-Indigenous participants, and it was a positive aspect of the event that expressed the reconciliation that can take place on an individual level.
The Every Child Matters flag was then raised, followed by a minute of silence. Mayor Peckford hosted the event, and in her remarks noted that the flag would be flown from the Municipal Centre permanently, as a reminder that this is a multi-generational issue that is not to be forgotten or ignored. There is much to be proud of in having such an event take place in North Grenville. Acknowledging the truth of our history, and seeking reconciliation with those who were oppressed, is a true Canadian characteristic, one we have not always lived up to, but one we can pursue in truth and honour.