DCCRC holds Candlelight vigil commemorating Indigenous children

October 7, 2021   ·   0 Comments

By Sam Odrowski

For the very first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation Day in Canada, the local community came together to listen, learn, and commemorate thousands of Indigenous children who died at residential school.

A candlelight vigil walk was held last Thursday (Sept. 30) going from the entrance of the Alder Recreation Centre to the Medicine Wheel Garden, where a smudging ceremony took place and Community Elder Karen Vandenberg shared a traditional prayer regarding the Seven Grandfather Teachings.

Following Elder Vandenberg’s prayer, Charity Fleming, who is Anishinaabe and a resident of Bellwood, shared remarks regarding Sept. 30 being Canada’s first official Truth and Reconciliation Day.

“I have been filled with reflection today and this week,” she said. “I’m grateful for the number of events, initiatives, [and] education people have been engaging in.”

Fleming noted that the recent discoveries of thousands of unmarked graves at former residential schools has helped her relatives who survived, finally share their stories.

“I feel like for so many years, we have silently borne our grief and I still don’t know what happened to all of my family members or my ancestors,” said Fleming.

“Since the graves have been discovered, my great uncle has found his voice. He’s been sharing more about what happened, sharing stories of sewing needles being pierced through his tongue when he spoke our language, of the isolation room, where they would put children that tried to run away.”

Fleming said her great uncle also recently shared that himself and his brother, who was six years old at the time, ran away from residential school, to avoid the horrible conditions there.

“They waited, they watched other people to see how did they do it. Did they get caught? Were they successfully able to escape? And they waited for the darkness of night. They hid in a shed,” she said.

“They would rather flee in the dark dense forest, 100 kilometers away from home, then stay in that residential school.”

It took several days to trek through the dense forest but they did return home, cold, hungry, but still alive. However, her great uncle’s brother caught pneumonia and died shortly thereafter.

Fleming stressed the importance of becoming educated on Canada’s history of residential schools and the issues that continue to impact Indigenous people today. One of the issues includes the disproportionately high rate of missing and murdered Indigenous women compared to non-Indigenous women. They represent 10 per cent of the missing population in Canada, while only comprising four per cent of the total population.

Contaminated drinking water, which currently impacts 32 First Nations communities, is another systemic issue Canadians must address, according to Fleming.

“There’s so much more that we grieve, and that impacts us, and afflicts us,” she said.

The event was well attended, with Mayor Sandy Brown, local councillors, MPP Sylvia Jones, members of the Dufferin County Cultural Resource Circle (DCCRC) and over 100 residents who participated, blowing away the event organizers.

“The response was incredible ­– completely and totally incredible,” said Debbie Sipkema, event organizer and DCCRC co-founder.

She told the Citizen herself and other DCCRC members never would have thought a local event like the candle walk vigil would see such a high-level of attendance when the organization started almost seven years ago. Sipkema said they’re thrilled with how far the DCCRC has come.

Meanwhile, the event itself had a strong symbolic meaning, according to Sipkema.

Where everyone gathered in front of the Alder Recreation Centre for the event, represented the town, while the garden that they walked to with candles in hand, represented healing.

“We’re taking the town with us to find healing at the garden,” Sipkema explained.

Mayor Sandy Brown read out a proclamation declaring Sept. 30 Truth and Reconciliation Day before the walk towards the healing garden began.

Before the candle walk vigil ceremony ended and attendees tied an orange ribbon to a nearby tree, to commemorate those forced to attend residential school, Fleming thanked those in attendance for showing their support.

“Thank you, first, for being here, for coming, for representing your intentions, for gathering with us,” she said. “I thank you that I no longer have to bear this

grief alone.”

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