STONEY NAKODA – In recognition of the second annual National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on Sept. 30, Îyârhe Nakoda First Nation members and their allies will walk nearly three kilometres between two sites that carry a long and painful history for those impacted by the residential school system.
Prayers and speeches will precede the Every Child Matters walk starting from the McDougall Memorial United Church off Highway 1A – associated with the McDougall orphanage and day school – and ending at the Morley United Church, near the site of the former Morley Indian Residential School in Mînî Thnî.
Event organizer Eve Powder helped to coordinate last year’s walk along the same route and said the 35-minute journey on foot is a way of observing lost children and survivors of the residential school system by bringing people together to honour their lives and their stories.
“The main goal is to bring all of the local communities together with this event,” said Powder. “It’s not just for those of us in Morley, the survivors and their families. I’d also like to see people out from Cochrane, Canmore and other nearby communities showing their support and getting a better sense of what really happened at these places.”
Like last year, the event will include speeches from those impacted by residential schools, some of whom attended the one in Mînî Thnî while it was operational under the United Church of Canada from 1926 to 1969, when it closed.
The walk and concluding event at the church in Mînî Thnî will provide a safe space for anyone who wishes to talk about their experience in residential or day schools, many of which can be difficult for survivors and their family members to recount.
Last year's speakers, which included elders and other community members, spoke of physical, mental and sexual abuse endured at the Morley Indian Residential School, with one Îyârhe Nakoda man recounting an attempted escape from the institution with his friend while hound dogs tracked them as they ran.
At seven years old, he managed to escape by outsmarting the hounds with his tracking abilities. But he never heard from or saw his friend again.
As a result of the well-documented abuse Indigenous children experienced during the 19th and 20th centuries in residential schools, many First Nations – including Îyârhe Nakoda – still suffer negative effects and trauma generations later.
Powder, who attended day school at the David Bearspaw Indian Day School, which opened and amalgamated with the Morley Indian Residential School in 1951, said the experience has made her a much more guarded person throughout her life.
“I’m very cautious of myself,” she said. “It’s hard to find the words, but it was just a traumatic experience and it’s made me just feel very uncomfortable with some people.”
The discovery of the remains of 215 children at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in B.C. in May 2021 did not surprise Powder, like much of the country’s Indigenous population. But it did re-awaken a lot of painful memories for survivors and their families, along with some long overdue conversations about truth and reconciliation.
Last year, the federal government passed legislation to announce Sept. 30 as the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, prompted by one of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Canada’s 94 Calls to Action requesting the government establish a statutory holiday to “ensure that public commemoration of the history and legacy of residential schools remains a vital component of the reconciliation process.”
Among other recommendations, the TRC also calls for the federal government to work with churches and Indigenous communities “to establish and maintain an online registry of residential school cemeteries,” including plot maps that show the location of deceased residential school children, where possible.
After the discovery in Kamloops, many First Nations across Canada that weren’t already conducting searches for unmarked graves, took it upon themselves to initiate one.
In Alberta, Siksika Nation and Ermineskin Cree Nation both announced they would be conducting searches of former residential school sites by or before August 2021.
Stoney Nakoda First Nation has so far not announced any plans to search the grounds of the Morley Indian Residential School, where the Morley Community School now presides.
The Every Child Matters walk will begin around 11 a.m., after prayers and speeches at 10 a.m. An RCMP escort will accompany walkers as they journey toward their destination, where there will be more speeches, pow wow dancing, games, food trucks and a 50/50 draw with all funds supporting future renditions of the annual walk.
There will be a free shuttle providing rides from the Morley United Church and Stoney Tribal Hockey Arena and Gymnasium to McDougall Church every 10 minutes beginning at 9:15 a.m. and ending at 10:15 a.m.
There are currently no other shuttles planned so carpooling is advised as much as possible to reduce issues with parking availability.
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