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'Cultural genocide': Aurora marks first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation
Oct. 4, 2021

Amid the anguish surfacing through the discovery of mass graves of Indigenous children at residential schools comes hope for the future, but also fear that little of substance will change.

That sentiment was reflected as hundreds of Aurora residents marked Canada’s first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation at the town park on Sept. 30 with Indigenous speakers, performers and calls to action to implement recommendations of the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation report.

“We can’t do it all. We need you at this time more than ever. I know that you heard that call, I know that you feel that call, because you’re here,” said traditional Anishinaabe Grandmother Kim Wheatley, whose band membership is the Shawanaga First Nations and who is Turtle Clan.

“We need you to feel what it’s like to be in our shoes. We never get to escape it.”

Wheatley encouraged residents to “carry a seed of hope on this day” but also stressed that the “colonial history of this country was conducted on the blood of our ancestors.”

Indigenous peoples honour and protect their youngsters, but the government of Canada and the religious groups it paid to run residential schools strove to “kill the Indian in the child,” she said.

“Residential schools were supposed to be places of learning. But what did our children learn? Cultural genocide happened in this country and that might be uncomfortable for some of you and I cannot apologize for that because it’s the truth,” Wheatley said.

“And with that truth comes some sort of responsibility to restore the harmony and balance that we intended initially when we started welcoming everybody to our shores.”

Before the ceremony, 10 days after the federal election, Wheatley said she has little faith that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will address Indigenous concerns.

“Trudeau is a failure. He doesn’t walk his talk, he doesn’t honour our people and he didn’t deserve our vote the first time, the second time or this time … He’s done us wrong,” she said, saying he hasn’t prioritized acts of reconciliation.

“When is it going to happen? Where’s the money? Why don’t you show up to any of the dead children’s sites? Why don’t we have (clean) drinking water? This is your third time in your seat.”

Several speakers at the ceremony spoke of the terrible legacy of residential schools and colonialism, also thanking residents for showing support.

Elder Pat Floody, of Simpcw First Nation in British Columbia and a sacred fire keeper who carries the spirit name Eagle Man and is Lynx Clan, shared that his mother is a survivor of a residential school.

Raiden Levesque, a citizen of the Métis Nation of Ontario and an ancestral knowledge keeper whose heritage is a mixture of Cree, Dakota, French and Irish ancestry, pointed out that as recently as the 1950s, Indigenous peoples were not allowed to practice their ceremonies.

“The atrocities that have happened in our country is beyond words and it means a lot to see the Town of Aurora as well as all the folks come out tonight to sit with us, to learn, to hear about our culture, to hear about some of the traditions as well as to put your prayers and your good intentions into the sacred fire and to join us in community and space,” said Levesque, who carries the spirit name White Bear Standing and is Thunderbird Clan.

Jared Big Canoe, of Georgina Island, who is known as Little Bear of the Bear Clan and is also a rapper known by the name J-Rez, performed his song “The Children.”

It contained lyrics such as “When we were little kids, we were taught to survive, so when those people come knocking, you better hide” and “They were killed for their culture and the way they pray.”

He also thanked residents for attending the event.

“We can’t thank you guys enough for meeting us halfway and taking care of truth and reconciliation in this amazing way and setting where we’re all equal,” he said.