To recognize Sept. 30 as the third National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and Orange Shirt Day, the Prince Albert Grand Council held a walk through downtown Prince Albert to the PAGC grounds on Saturday.
The walk began at the MMIWG monument on River Street. It was the third Every Child Matters Walk to be held in the city. George Mirasty of PAGC Health and Social, and one of the organizers of the walk, said they wanted to stand together to honour Residential School victims and survivors.
“It’s so important to bring awareness to what happened in those residential schools, and the more you bring it out, (the) more healing takes place in First Nations communities for people individually,” Mirasty said.
“We have been doing this for a few years now…. It’s for the children and the survivors and the ones who didn’t make it home.”
Mirasty was happy to see so many people out to pay tribute on the day.
“Personally, it touches my heart that people can come here and learn about residential school,” he said. “When we first started, there was hardly anyone walking at (the) events. In Canada, people are in denial of Residential Schools…. Now it’s across Canada and that’s good.”
Mirasty’s family joined him on the walk. Many wore shirts identifying them as former residential school students.
Orange Shirt Day began in 2013. The initiative asks for every Canadian to wear an orange shirt on Sept. 30 in the spirit of healing and reconciliation in honouring and validating the healing and reconciliation of former students and their families.
The date was chosen because that was the time of year children were taken from their families to Residential Schools.
Mirasty said it was important for youth to take part in Saturday’s walk.
“We are thinking of the young people this year,” he said. “This year, it’s for the youth to be aware of and to understand, give them a little education on the Orange T-Shirts, what it’s about, what their parents might have gone through what their grandparents went through and grandparents.”
Mirasty is a health support worker with Residential Schools and Sixties Scoop survivors. He too is a former residential school student, and said it took him a while to start dealing with his experiences.
“Once I started sharing what happened in those schools, I then it became easier and I started my journey too. That’s why I went into this field,” he said.
Saturday’s walk began with speeches from dignitaries. The drum group led the walk east up First Avenue to 13th Street, then to Central Avenue and up Central Avenue eventually ending with lunch and entertainment at the PAGC grounds.
Representatives from the RCMP and Prince Albert Police Service also spoke before the march. Mirasty said it was important to have representatives from all areas.
“We’ll have the regular speakers and there are new speakers here too, RCMP will be speaking, city police are here the cadets are here and the Eagle’s Nest are here, young people,” Mirasty said.
Mirasty and Penny Constant served as co-emcees.
The day opened with a Prayer by Elders Leonard Ermine and Shirley Sanderson as well as the Honour Song by the Young Eagle Cree Drum Group and an old-style fancy dance by Robbie McGee.
Vice Chief Joseph Tsannie spoke on behalf of PAGC leadership as current Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte is currently in a PAGC election.
The Sturgeon Lake Cadets were also on hand to represent the youth.
Vice Chief Christopher Jobb, Shoal Lake Chief Marcel Head, Sturgeon Lake Chief Christine Longjohn, PAGC Health Director Shirley Woods and Edith Kadachuk also spoke during the event.
There were several workers available to people in case the day’s events had adverse effects.
Lieutenant Governor Russell Mirasty was among those in attendance. He said it was great to see so much support for the walk.
“Donna and I are pleased and honoured to join you here today to remember to think about the residential schools and people that were impacted and especially those, as the Elder stated earlier, that didn’t make it home,” Mirasty said.
Russell Mirasty is a survivor himself and attended the Residential School on West Hill in the 1960s. His mother attended there and in La Ronge and Gordon’s and had many relatives in different schools.
“It’s just really an honour to come together with you here in Prince Albert and knowing that many, many other events are going on around the province and the country. As I said, this is a place of special meaning for me and others that I know,” he said.
Mirasty added that it was ironic that he is representative of King Charles III as a survivor.
“When we talk about the crown and Crown-Indigenous relations and the Treaties, it adds extra meaning. I always end my attendance at events with a greeting from His Majesty King Charles. Previously Her Majesty, but now His Majesty. King Charles, the third King of Canada since taking office. I’ve also shared the greeting in my own language of Woodland Cree.”
Other speakers included Mayor Greg Dionne, Prince Albert Northcote MLA Alana Ross, PAPS Interim Chief Patrick Nogier and RCMP Superintendent Ted Monroe.
“I’m glad that they came because they’re spreading the word too and taking part in this event. That’s for the people and the communities and people individually,” George Mirasty said.
Before the walk, there was a performance of a traditional song by flutist Jason Chamakese. Young Eagle Cree then led the walk to the PAGC grounds.