MORRISBURG – “We know that there is still so much work that needs to be done,” said Kana:takon District Chief Tim Thompson during the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation ceremony September 30.
Thompson addressed a group of about 40 people at the South Dundas Municipal Centre including most of South Dundas council and many municipal employees.
Ceremonies like the one in South Dundas were held across the country, recognizing Canada’s history of its Indian Residential School system. This year is the first year the day is commemorated as a national holiday.
Thompson said that the day was an opportunity to learn about the traumas forced upon Indigenous peoples in an effort to eradicate them. The day was also to reflect on what everyone can do to help in the journey of reconciliation.
“Today, and everyday, as more mass graves are identified and more lost children are found, our people and our communities mourn,” Thompson spoke. “When our elders speak of atrocities that were committed against them, it brings us all pain. But we are fighters. We persevere. And we use this anguish to continue the fight for our children, our grandchildren, and those who have come before us.”
He said that while the day brings sadness, there is also pride in their communities for their resilience.
“Every time we see one of our youth speaking our language, attending the ceremonies, practicing our culture, dancing to our songs, we are proud. Proud that although they tried to get rid of us, we are still here, and we are flourishing.”
Thompson said that speaking of the horrors of the residential school system may make some uncomfortable and that it is difficult to hear about the traumas inflicted on Indigenous communities.
“Especially today, we need to share these stories, to speak the truth,” Thompson said. “I encourage you all to listen, and to learn our truth. And to ensure that history never repeats itself.”
Thompson, along with Akwesasne District Chiefs Vanessa Adams and Julie Phillips-Jacobs, presented the municipality with books on the residential school system to help with education and “start the process of learning.”
South Dundas Mayor Steven Byvelds spoke of the importance of the community’s relationship with the Mohawks of Akwesasne.
“We hope this relationship will grow as we move forward,” he said.
Byvelds explained that reflecting on the day was important to Canada’s history and the way to move forward with the Indigenous people.
“It is all our responsibility to educate ourselves and to hear the stories of the survivors of the residential schools,” Byvelds said. “We cannot change the past but we can learn from our mistakes by recognizing the pain and heartache that was caused and is still felt today. The past can teach us, and guide us today.”
Speaking about the discovery of unmarked graves at the sites of former residential schools earlier this year, Byvelds said, “we did not treat children as they should have been. Children don’t get buried in their school yards. They should have been brought home to their families.”
After a minute of silent reflection, the orange Every Child Matters flag was raised by Thompson and Byvelds at the municipal centre in Morrisburg.
“We raise the flag together and let it fly as a symbol of our respect and in solidarity with the Indigenous communities,” Byvelds concluded.