'A sea of orange': Saskatoon marks National Day for Truth and Reconciliation with march
Shirley Isbister had trouble believing her eyes Friday as she stood at the bottom of Victoria Park in Saskatoon watching more than 1,000 people dressed in orange shirts pour in from the street above for National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
“It looked like miles, like just a sea of orange. My heart was so full,” she said, with a smile on her face.
Isbister, the president of the Central Urban Metis Federation Inc. (CUMFI), has been a central figure in the area for reconciliation and Indigenous issues. She’s worked closely with community groups and the city to make sure Saskatoon takes reconciliation to heart year-round.
She’s spent countless hours honouring her culture, residential school survivors and improving the lives of Indigenous people in the province.
“The day is about honoring our survivors,” she said. “I think we do that in the best way that we can. You look at how happy they were today.”
Mayor Charlie Clark led the Rock Your Roots walk to the “Where our Paths Cross” Reconciliation Circle art installation in Victoria Park alongside singers and drummers from Young Scouts Drum Group. He didn’t just walk along, he grabbed a drum and led the sea of people to the park.
“We can only do this as a community. No one person, no one leader, no one can do the work of Truth and Reconciliation. It can only be done with all of us stepping forward together,” Clark said.
“It shows his dedication and his effort to participate and to show his leadership,” drummer Darrell Paskimin said. “That is the thing that I’m always going to remember about this day.”
‘PEOPLE OF EVERY CULTURE’
When Clark arrived at the park, turned and saw the hundreds upon hundreds of people following him down to the park, he couldn’t help but shed a tear and get emotional at the number of people spending time to mark the day.
“I don't want any child to have to grow up living in a society where they feel like they're on the outside of society,” he said. “It means a lot to be able to try and play whatever part I can play to help to build that path forward.”
Isbister said city officials and leaders taking reconciliation seriously sets an example for the community.
“It boosts up the city -- it's a city that participated today, not just the core area or just Indigenous people,” Isbister said of Clark not just participating, but leading the activities.
“There was people of every culture there. And that's what reconciliation is about. Diversity and coming together.”
Friday’s walk took a different path than previous years. People walked down 20th Street West where a portion of the Orange Banner Project route displays messages of reconciliation on light poles across the city.
As part of the celebrations, runners from Wild Athletics and the University of Saskatchewan ran from College Drive, where another portion of the Orange Banner Project is on display. Both groups were introduced from under Reconciliation Circle to a roaring applause from the masses.
Métis dancers entertained the crowd between drumming songs when the entertainment portion began.
HONOUR AND RECONCILIATION
Speakers spoke of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action being an obligation and not just a recommendation.
Clark spoke about the need to keep up the momentum all the time, and urged everyone to keep learning more and honouring residential school survivors.
Isbister was honoured with a pair of moccasins as a gift from Gilles Dorval, a co-founder of Reconciliation Saskatoon, on behalf of Residential School Survivors.
Not one to accept gifts, Isbister first refused to accept the gift until she heard who it was from.
“When I received the Saskatchewan Order of Merit, they said it's the highest award that you can receive in Saskatchewan,” Isbister said. “But the highest award you can receive anywhere in Canada is to be honored by the survivors.”
After more than 2,000 suspected graves of children buried at more than 140 former residential schools across Canada were discovered over the past two years, there is some sombre reflections that come along with the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. For Paskimin, he feels hope for the future.
“It's just a day of just positive energy,” he said. “I feel hopeful for the future of all nations.
The festivities at Victoria Park wrapped up with three survivors dancing around the stage, something which Isbister said it made her want to cry since culture was stripped away from these women as children when they entered their respective residential schools.
In the spirit of reconciliation, the whole crowd ended the event by coming together, joining hands and participating in a round dance.
“We learn and we listen. “Every day is reconciliation. You need to hear the truth and speak the truth before we can have reconciliation, and so we all need to be a part of that,” Isbister said.
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