BRANDON — Themes of truth, love and healing dominated an event to honour residential school survivors at the site of the former Brandon Indian Residential School.
The Monday event, called Prayer for the Children, was held at the property in conjunction with National Indigenous Peoples Day, to mourn the children who died at the residential school and similar sites across the country.
The event was hosted by Sioux Valley Dakota Nation and the Southern Chiefs’ Organization.
The day is typically about celebration, said SCO Grand Chief Jerry Daniels, but this year it takes on a different meaning.
"It’s a recognition of the tragedy. We’ve been talking about reconciliation for a very long time, but we still have to acknowledge the truth of what happened… we have to give space to acknowledge that," Daniels said.
"We know where we’ve been, so we know where we’re going. And the place we’re going is the place, hopefully, with more opportunity and more understanding about what happened and what we need to do to change that narrative for our young people."
Dozens of people, many wearing orange shirts and masks to commemorate the unmarked graves of 215 children recently discovered at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in B.C., gathered around a large tent on the property, which is owned by Sioux Valley.
Katherine Nichols, a University of Manitoba researcher who helped uncover details of unmarked graves at the former Brandon residential school, told the crowd there is still research ongoing.
A total of 104 graves are believed to be spread around three burial sites, according to a news release. Only 78 graves are accounted for in historical records.
Ken Whitecloud, former chief of Sioux Valley Dakota Nation, said National Indigenous Peoples Day was hard this year, and he tries not to be angry.
"I’m not angry at white people. I’m angry at the government and the church, but I try not to be angry… Today is a hard day. Both my parents went to residential school," he said.
"Imagine how many kids, children are not here because of what happened. There’s families that have been wiped out... People don’t even know who some of these children are," Whitecloud said.
"It’s a difficult day, but it’s a good day — a healing day... We’re still here and we’re stronger, we’re better, we’re good people with good hearts."
Sioux Valley Chief Jennifer Bone stated in a news release the recent announcement of the discovery at the former Kamloops residential school was not new for the nation.
"Our community empathizes and understands the collective pain and sorrow that the forced residential schools afflicted upon our nations," Bone stated. "The news of the Kamloops discovery has triggered raw emotions of sadness and grief in all of us."
— Brandon Sun