‘There’s been a war here,’ organizer of Ottawa truth and reconciliation day event says

Indigenous people must enlist allies to help them heal from the ‘war’ of residential schools, says Jenny Sutherland, at Parliament Hill gathering

Annie Aningmiuq of Pangnirtung, left, and Kendra Tagoona of Baker Lake throat sing before a crowd that nearly covered the lawn at Parliament Hill during the opening ceremonies for the inaugural National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on Thursday. (Photo by Jeff Pelletier)

By Jeff Pelletier

Thousands of Indigenous people and allies gathered on Parliament Hill on Thursday for a ceremony in honour of the first-ever National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

A sea of orange shirts filled the lawn in front of the Centre Block as early as 9 a.m. to listen to stories from survivors, watch singing and drumming performances, and to quietly reflect on the lives lost in residential schools.

It marked the first time that Sept. 30 was recognized as a federal holiday since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission called for the government to create a holiday in its 94 calls to action in 2015. Parliament passed a law in June to create the new observance.

Jenny Sutherland of Moose Cree First Nation was one of the organizers and masters of ceremonies of the event at Parliament. She described the residential school system as an “act of war” against Indigenous Peoples, for which there needs to be a significant effort of remembrance.

“We want to elevate this day so it’s just as important as Remembrance Day for our veterans,” Sutherland said in an interview. “There’s been a war here, and Indigenous people need that recognized, and we need the support of the non-Indigenous community to help us with our healing.”

Several speakers addressed the crowd on the Hill. Claudette Commanda, an elder from Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg, north of Ottawa, opened by addressing the ongoing systemic issues Indigenous communities continue to face surrounding child welfare and murdered and missing women and girls.

Commanda also used her time to share a message of unity and hope.

“No matter how much the trauma is, there is still the healing that took place, and there are still the success of our people,” she said. “We’ll walk together to turn this country into a beautiful country for all of our children.”

Between speakers, several singers and drummers took the stage.

Kendra Tagoona of Baker Lake and Annie Aningmiuq of Pangnirtung are Ottawa-based throat singers. They performed two songs, dedicating their performances to the children who did not survive residential schools.

“I’m very honoured to be here. I am the daughter of a residential school survivor and my father, Eric Tagoona, was one of the ‘Experimental Eskimos’ [three 12-year-old Inuit boys sent to Ottawa in the 1960s to live with white families],” Tagoona said. “Just really happy to be here and thinking of all the survivors and the ones we’ve lost.”

Doug George Kanentiio of the Akwesasne Mohawk nation was one of many survivors to speak. He shared his experiences of being forced to attend residential schools.

Kanentiio also used his time to demand investigations of the sites of former residential schools, and to call for prosecutions of the perpetrators of abuse and violence in the schools.

“There are still those people living who have assumed up to this point that they have escaped responsibility for what they did to us,” he said. “They have to be held criminally responsible.”

Carolyn Bennett, the federal minister of Crown–Indigenous relations, and Marc Miller, minister of Indigenous services, were both at Parliament to greet elders, despite some attendees expressing disapproval of their presence. Neither minister addressed the media, with one of their staffers saying they were only there as “participants.”

After the speeches on Parliament Hill, a group of elders led a silent march down Wellington Street and Elgin Street, finishing at Confederation Park. There, more survivors shared their stories, while attendees were able to purchase Indigenous crafts, visit kiosks and grab buffalo burger to eat from a barbecue tent.

At the end of the events, what started as a morning of solemn reflection turned into an afternoon of hope for change.

Morty, an Inuk woman from Arctic Bay who came with members of the Ontario-based organization Tungasuvvingat Inuit, was very cheerful as she left with her group.

“Starting this point, it’s very hopeful that it’s going to be passed on from generation to generation now,” she said. “I’m very proud of it.”

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(14) Comments:

  1. Posted by S on

    “There, more survivors shared their stories, while attendees were able to … grab buffalo burger to eat from a barbecue tent.”

    “She described the residential school system as an “act of war” against Indigenous Peoples, for which there needs to be a significant effort of remembrance.”

    Perhaps we need to declare every day a statutory holiday to commemorate one misdeed or another. Certainly one that recognizes the atrocities that indigenous authorities commut every day against their lower class brethren

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    • Posted by Your comments are transparent on

      Dude, you are always deflecting from the issue at hand. I guess you feel uncomfortable looking at the history of the residential schools so you need to turn attention onto something else.

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  2. Posted by Forever Amazed on

    I agree. Not sure why you were given down votes. Sometimes the truth hurts.

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  3. Posted by Truestory on

    I stopped living in the past as it is painful. I’m a survivor of “Residential School”. I don’t want to live in the past as it is depressing to keep it alive. It’s time to move forward. Not backwards. I know it’s painful. Maybe it’s why you’re sad because you’re keeping it alive. Move forward.

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  4. Posted by Word Choice Matters on

    I’ve seen war in service of this country.

    While I understand her point and purpose, she has no idea what war is, none at all.

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    • Posted by War on drugs on

      Yea eh, people never use the word ‘war’ metaphorically, do they? Nice catch, I guess…

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      • Posted by OP Is Right on

        No, the poster is right, her hyperbole weakens her message and credibility.

    • Posted by My word choice matters on

      The war in Nunavut is maybe what she is talking about ???
      People feeding junk food to children.
      Spending money on drugs & alcohol.
      People not paying rent, and wrecking their houses.
      Leaders who will not do a thing about the abuses happening in their own communities, but
      will fly all over the place for old issues.
      And us idiot Inuit keep electing them year after year. We are our own fools.

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  5. Posted by Me on

    PM True Doe does not seem to recognize this important event. Instead went on vacationing to BC, insulting indigenous people, showing prejudice to them. Will he always go on vacation on this important indigenous peoples day?

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    • Posted by Gordian Knot on

      I don’t know if it was prejudice so much. Trudeau is just being himself in a sort of defeated way, showing us that his performances on issues are really motivated by what he perceives the benefit to his brand will be.

      Not to sound excessively cynical either, I believe he genuinely cares about Indigenous people at some level. But the problems are complicated, ‘Sunny ways’ was always a Polyanna, utopian approach, animated by the PM’s childlike naiveté.

      Not making an appearance at any of the events he was invited to for the first Truth and Reconciliation day was a deep sulk by Trudeau.

      I tend to agree that he should have done something, even if something small. The day was not about him anyway. Which makes me wonder if letting it be a day where others take the stage might have been the right choice too.

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      • Posted by Victor on

        We shouldn’t get too fixated on Trudeau and how just he responded to the 1st (There can be only one 1st) True & Reconciliation Day, by ignoring it and going on holiday, but we have to keep in mind how others in powerful positions are reacting as well. For example the Premier of the great province of Quebec indicated he would not make Sept 30 a stat holiday in Quebec, because “Quebec needs more productivity”… code for we’re not yet finished destroying indigenous traditional lands.

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  6. Posted by William Aglukkaq on

    Still lost up North from the 60’s scoop!, was adopted but denied by Collectiva and still was adopted and lived up here my whole life maybe media can help?? …

  7. Posted by Lest we forget on

    People don’t realize that Quebec has it the absolute worst. We’ve come full circle when it comes to our oppressive captors. Quebec wanted nothing to do with us so they had Canada take us in under the Indian act, then Canada wanted nothing to do with us so they handed us off to the church, now the church was done with us, Canada took over and put us in fed day schools, now Quebec is back at the wheel making language laws with provincial mandatory eligibility certificates to dictate what language we want to teach our children in. Yup, to this day..

    So, here’s my story.

    Most of my family were put in either a residential or a federal day school. They were taught in English. They were beat if they spoke anything else. When they finished their education, it stated English. We couldn’t be put into French class because of the provincial eligibility certificate our parents had to submit for our education stated they were taught in English. Same for mine. So, I had no choice to put my children in English classes with “French Immersion”. When they graduate, their diplomas will state English and the chain doesn’t break. It can but that would mean I bring my children to nunavik to be educated by abusive teachers, and have them taught in a very weak set of curriculum which does not compare to services outside the region but within the province. Meanwhile, Quebec is making more language laws that say that will not affect the Inuit when it comes to employment in their region. Even makivik fed us some bs trying to assure us of that. That was a lie. Just look around you and at statcan. Franco employment in the North or for Inuit organizations has sky rocketed.

    Quebec doesn’t even want to acknowledge orange shirt day at school in remembrance to the children that were their age and never made it home. Think about that. It’s not about race. It’s about children!

    If you want to talk about race, though.. I won’t stop seeing colour until the ones with the control give equal opportunity to those of us who set foot on Canada FIRST. Even the immigrants have a choice.. they can prove they were taught in English and put their kids in English school.. if they down right refuse English, they don’t have to hand in proof of their education and their children will be placed in French.

    We are still being treated as bottom of the barrel in society. There are laws backing this, for crying out loud. They’re making sure there are no successful Inuit or natives for that matter within the province of Quebec.

    I believe we should separate from Quebec. I really do. The problem is that there aren’t that many educated Inuit to allow this to happen.. and now you know why.

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