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National Truth and Reconciliation Day speeches, walk in Sherbrooke

By William Crooks

Local Journalism Initiative

A gathering and walk were organized by local schools in Sherbrooke Sept. 30 for National Truth and Reconciliation Day, which commemorates the history and legacy of residential schools for the Indigenous peoples of Canada. Speeches were given, and songs performed, beginning at around noon at Strathcona Park in front of the town hall. They were followed by a group walk through Sherbrooke. Hundreds participated, many in symbolic orange shirts.

A land acknowledgment, recognizing the Indigenous people that lived in the Sherbrooke area prior to colonization, preceded an opening song. Over 10 Indigenous people then took turns speaking, who had either been to a residential school or are a student at a local school.

One woman congratulated parents that brought their children. The parents are setting a good example and education in these matters needs to begin young, she said. Everyone is where they need to be today, said another.

A man emphasized how beautiful he found the gathering, referring to all of the orange shirts in the fall season. He went on to explain that he is a residential school survivor, “plucked from his community at the age of five”. He attended for 10 years and understands the stories that other Indigenous people tell of their experiences at residential schools. He urged everyone to “look forward” and think about what they can do. It is completely natural that the attempts to eradicate Indigenous languages and culture would produce anger, he continued. He emphasized that the schools were clearly acts of genocide. That anger should be channeled to bring about real change and positive Indigenous community benefits. “Let each of our legacies be an inspiration to those who come after us.”

“You deserve to hear the truth, that’s not written in textbooks,” said a Bishop’s University (BU) student later on. She is from the northern reaches of Quebec. Both of her grandparents were residential school survivors. Her mother and father attended “Indian Day Schools”, which were intended to assimilate Indigenous youth into mainstream Canadian society, she said; more than 150,000 Indigenous students attended these institutions. She urged those at the gathering to think during the walk and thank the survivors that “fought so hard” for the possibility of National Truth and Reconciliation Day.

“It’s not always easy,” admitted another BU student, referring to her current life at BU. “I’m going to speak my truth,” she said. She had to adjust to this new environment “down south”. In her Inuit culture, knowledge is passed on orally from generation to generation. She finds remembering author’s names, a large part of her present schooling, difficult. “Coming into this world… is triggering,” she said, because she sees herself in the textbooks she reads. “I’m not colonized enough to be here,” she said she thinks, “what am I doing here?” But she knows she can adjust; it is what her culture has been doing for thousands of years.

After the speeches, everyone moved onto Wellington Street for the walk. Indigenous people were at the front and led the way behind a large banner reading “every child matters”. The walk ended at Marché de la Gare near Lac des Nations where there were some closing words.

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