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Sea of orange greets National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

In her daughter’s words, Mary Jane Cameron never got a chance to be the woman her Creator wanted her to be.

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In her daughter’s words, Mary Jane Cameron never got a chance to be the woman her Creator wanted her to be.

She was taken from her family in 1937, and placed into the Fort Alexander Residential School in Sagkeeng when she was just five, and didn’t leave until she was 16. When she looked out of the windows of the school that trapped her and looked across the water, her daughter Brenda Cameron explains, she could see her home.

“When she left this world, she had never healed from that. She had never been able to get over what she was taught, that who she was was bad, that she was evil,” Cameron told the Free Press.

Gerald Abraham, whose traditional name is Blackcloud, from Little Black River First Nation holds up a sign that says, ”Every Child Matters” as he enters the Oodena Celebration Circle Friday morning. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

“She was never able to get over it. And when she left this world, she still held those beliefs.”

Cameron was one of thousands connecting into a sea of orange at The Forks for the second annual survivors walk Friday morning to mark the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. The Winnipeg event, organized by Wa-Say Healing Centre, drew Manitobans from all walks of life.

Children and adults, dancers in full regalia, drummers and singers dotted the bright orange wave. Wa-Say workers handed out orange shirts, embossed with “Every Child Matters.” Horses were led through the crowd, and bikers wearing orange bandannas and tassels on their motorcycles revved their engines as walkers passed them by.

For some, it was a chance to celebrate survival and resilience.

“For me, personally, it’s good. It’s a good day for me,” said Candice Hart, who was at the walk with her 21-year-old daughter Aiyana. “I am excited to see a lot of my mushums, my kookums, my deadly aunties, my deadly uncles, all my sisters and brothers here.”

Rory Nash carries Nathaniel Vandenbroeck, 6, on his shoulders during the march towards the RBC Convention Centre from The Forks Friday morning. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

Hart attended day school in Saskatchewan from 1989-91, and said while there was a lot of trauma associated with that time, there had been a lot of healing, too.

“I’ve made sure that my house is safe for my children, so they can be brought up in a safe environment. I’m moving on — my parents were also survivors, so I looked at a lot of the teachings that they never received,” she said.

“I’m doing my best as the younger generation that attended one of the last residential schools in Canada. I don’t want it to be for myself, a dreadful feeling for my kids to hang on to, so I always try and help celebrate days like this.”

For others, like Cameron — who carried a simple sign with her mother’s name and photo on it — it was a time to reflect on painful memories. Mary Jane Cameron died five years ago, at 84, and the generational impact of the residential school system continues to affect her daughter and her siblings today.

“I wish I could go to our own ceremonies with my brothers and sisters, but because of how well the colonizers did their jobs, we’re still trying to recover,” she said.

Hundreds take part in the march towards the RBC Convention Centre from The Forks Friday morning. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

But she walked Friday, and knows she isn’t alone.

“I would like to believe that (my mother’s) spirit is here with us. And I would like to believe that she finally gets to be proud of who she is,” Cameron said. “That’s what I believe.”

It wasn’t the only show of solidarity and support happening in the Manitoba capital. Among the events was the unveiling of a memorial tribute sculpture to residential school survivors and their families at Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre.

The piece was created by Irvin Head, an artist from Cranberry Portage. He fell ill in the end stage of the project and died before it could be completed, but family members and other artists came together to finish the piece.

The unveiling at 445 King St., which also included presentations from youth and teachings from a community elder, concluded with an offering of tobacco ties and a feast.

Hundreds of people take part in the march towards the RBC Convention Centre from The Forks Friday morning. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

Later, representatives from different First Nations, community groups and all three levels of government came out to the downtown RBC Convention Centre for the Orange Shirt Day Pow Wow at the end of the survivors walk.

The afternoon event also took time to honour Raymond Mason, who passed away earlier this year at 75.

The residential school survivor and decades-long advocate for fellow survivors would have loved to see so many people come out in solidarity and support, his son Kyle Mason said.

Mason’s family were part of the powwow’s grand entry, where they carried his picture and did a lap around the gathering as the drummers performed an honour song in his name.

It’s a tribute the family will always be grateful for, Mason said.

Hundreds of people take part in the march towards the RBC Convention Centre from The Forks Friday morning. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

“There would be no Truth and Reconciliation Commission, there would be no school settlements, there would be no day school settlements — he played a pivotal, early role,” he said of his father.

“And he played a role throughout. Because of his decades of work, volunteering his time, tens of thousands of lives have been touched and changed. And justice is now being served.”

Event organizer Wayne Mason Jr. (also a cultural support provider at Wa-Say Healing Centre) said he couldn’t have expected the massive turnout both this year and the last, which was at St. John’s Park.

“For everybody that’s thinking out there, ‘I’m just one person, how can I help? What can I do?’” he said.

“If you change your thoughts to, ‘I’m going to do something, I’m going to support. I’m going to talk to a survivor, I’m going to support a survivor. I’m going to wear an orange shirt’ — if everybody did that, it’s not just one person, it’s everybody together, and we’ll make changes.”

Hundreds of people take part in the march towards the RBC Convention Centre from The Forks Friday morning. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

malak.abas@freepress.mb.ca

Malak Abas

Malak Abas
Reporter

Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.

History

Updated on Friday, September 30, 2022 2:03 PM CDT: Adds photos from march

Updated on Friday, September 30, 2022 2:03 PM CDT: Adds photos from march

Updated on Friday, September 30, 2022 2:14 PM CDT: Adds photos

Updated on Friday, September 30, 2022 2:14 PM CDT: Adds photos

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