To recognize September 30 and the second National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and Orange Shirt Day, the Prince Albert Grand Council held a walk through downtown Prince Albert.
The walk began at the MMIWG monument on River Street, and was called the Every Child Matters Walk.
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) in honour of the ones that never went home and the ones that went to Residential Schools. That’s why we do it, just to remember those ones and for Canada to be aware that these things happened across this land,” Mirasty said.
“It is getting more recognized. More people are getting together where they are making that bridge to reconcile.”
Orange Shirt Day began in 2013. This 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.
Saturday’s walk began with speeches from dignitaries. The drum group led the walk east up River Street, south on Central Avenue and then West on 15th Street to Parkland Hall. At Parkland Hall there was a barbecue, prayer and more drum group performances and speeches from survivors.
The Prince Albert Grand Council worked with the City of Prince Albert and Prince Albert Police Service to host the event. Mirasty said it was important to have representatives from all areas.
“Those are steps and we have justice here and we have MLAs and we have the Chiefs and some other dignitaries,” he said.
Emcee Darrell McCallum opened with the story of Phyllis Webstat, who inspired Orange Shirt Day with her story.
The day opened with a Prayer by Elder Shirley Sanderson and the Honour Song by Bear Child Singers from Wahpeton.
During his speech, PAGC Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte shared a story that he had never shared publicly before about his time at the Prince Albert Indian Residential School.
“As you look west, you will see the bridge. But over the bridge you will see the Railroad crossing. You know what that railroad crossing was? It was an escape route for survivors in my generation,” Hardlotte said.
“I too crossed that railroad track to get away and go north, I tried to go back to my community. I have never ever shared that before but I think it’s really appropriate time to share that.”
Hardlotte opened the event by asking people to raise their hands to thank the Creator for the beautiful day. He also thanked his adopted mother Sanderson for the opening prayer.
“I just want to thank everyone, all of the leadership present here, all of the people, everyone I’ll say,” Hardlotte told those gathered. “I think it will take a lot of time if I start naming everybody. PA city council, everybody for supporting this special, special event here this morning.”
He also remembered experiencing things similar to what Phyllis Webstat did.
“They thought we were poor,” he said. “Our parents bought us new clothing and when we entered here, in our case Prince Albert Indian Residential School, they took those new clothes away and we never saw them again,” Hardlotte said.
“What they did with them I don’t know. But that’s true.”
Hardlotte thanked all of the work that all levels of government for starting the process and creating the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. He also thanked the City of Prince Albert and Prince Albert Police Service for what they have done in reconciliation.
However, he also said there was more to do. Although the thanked the provincial government and local MLAs for their work, Hardlotte also called on the province and the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour to make the day a provincial statutory holiday as well.
“I know that work will be done and I call upon them to do that,” Hardlotte said.
Vice Chief Joseph Tsannie said reconciliation was an important part of honouring the treaties. On Friday, he encouraged parents to help their children learn about the treaties, and urged the government to do the same.
“The governments need to learn about the treaties and implement some of the recommendations that was there right from the beginning,” he said.
Also representing the PAGC as speakers were Vice Chief Christopher Jobb, Montreal Lake Chief Joyce Naytowhow-McLeod and Black Lake Chief Coreen Sayazie.
Naytowhow-McLeod pondered why schools remain open for the day.
“I couldn’t bring my grandkids because they are in school, why are the schools not closed today?” she said.
Other speakers included Mayor Greg Dionne, Dr. Lalita Malhotra, Prince Albert Northcote MLA Alana Ross, Western Region 2 of the Métis Nation—Saskatchewan regional director Sherry Mclennan, Barry Wilcox Saskatchewan Human Rights Interim Commissioner, PAPS Chief Jonathan Bergen, Deputy Chief Farica Prince, RCMP North Division Operations Officer Murray Chamberlain, Janet Carriere director of the Prince Albert Friendship Centre and Anglican Minister Wendell Brock who also led a prayer.
The RCMP and Brock each acknowledged the role of their organizations in Residential Schools and Brock apologized for the role of his church.
Member of Parliament Randy Hoback could not attend because Parliament is sitting and sent a representative who gave a speech. There was also a performance by a Metis fiddler.
Before the walk there was a performance by Wild Bear Singers from Sturgeon Lake.
“I’m glad for all of the participation for everyone that came,” Mirasty said. “It’s a good crowd. It’s a really good crowd and it’s getting bigger because it bridges the gap.”
There was a group of walkers from Mistawasis who were walking to Prince Albert and held an event of their own in East End Hall on Friday evening.