In order to recognize the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on Thursday, September 30, the Fort Frances Tribal Area Health Services (FFTAHS) organization is holding a special event to honour the generations of Indigenous people who have been impacted by residential schools.
Starting at 10:00 a.m. at the organizations’ Behavioural Health Services building at 601 King’s Highway, across from West End Motors, the special will provide the public with an opportunity to take part in a ceremony and activities planned around the day. Krista Hunt, FFTAHS program assistant and eHealth coordinator, said the organization is approaching the day’s event with a new tactic.
“We are doing a drive-by event,” Hunt said.
“We’re still incorporating the ceremony, the traditional dance, everything else that comes part and parcel to the culture, but we’re offering it in a drive-by format as well as offering some additional digital platforms so we can share it with schools.”
Hunt explained that as part of the ceremony for that day, a drum will be on site. Since a part of local Indigenous culture is to have a drum encircled, Hunt said the organization conferred with its Elders committee to see if the circular driveway itself would be appropriate and allowed for the ceremony, which she said the committee approved.
“We’re going to have some local youth dancers in full regalia present for part of the ceremony,” Hunt said.
“We’re going to have our elders come and speak. The members of our Elder committee are all deeply touched by residential schools to varying degrees.”
The event will also include a sacred fire.
Mackenzie Archie is the FFTAHS’ cultural coordinator. She explained that even though the organization holds a yearly event to honour those who were impacted by the residential school system, the drive-through event being held this year is in order to keep numbers within acceptable limits for health and safety regulations surround COVID-19.
“In previous years we would have a big event at our locations and we would get over 350 people in attendance,” Archie said.
“We would have tents set up, and we would have our drum there and we would have space allocated for our elders to share their stories with whoever was in attendance. We would have a barbecue, and it was just a really nice safe place for everybody to come and be recognized and honoured.”
Owing to the nature of the drive-through event, this year will look and behave a bit differently for those who want to participate. While the drum and dancers will be in the centre of the circular driveway, and other parts of the day will be live streamed through the FFTAHS Facebook page so that those in other communities, or who simply can’t make it in person, can still be part of recognizing the day.
For those who can make it in person, though, there will be plenty to be part of. Those wishing to attend the event will be invited to drive around the circular driveway. Hunt explained there will be a number of stops along the way for a number of different activities or takeaways.
“We’re also offering giveaways, grab bags,” she said.
“We’re doing a visual art display with our children’s mental health wellness and art therapist Lindsay Hamilton, who will be doing something wonderful with pre-cut handprints and words of encouragement, words of hope to make an art display.”
The handprints will be collected and turned into a banner for display. The event will also feature a t-shirt and take home lunch for those who stop by.
Overall, Archie said the day and event are both intended to continue to bring awareness to the ongoing impacts of the residential school system, acknowledging and honouring those who did and did not return home.
“The importance is that Every Child Matters,” she explained.
“We want to honour our children and have some children there. We’ll have our drummers there, and our elder Josephine Potvin. She is a residential school survivor and she is going to open our day with a prayer and share a little bit about her experience at residential school and her healing journey.”
Archie stressed that the day is particularly important for FFTAHS staff to recognize and honour local elders who have lived with the impacts of residential schools. It’s extra important with the increasing discoveries of mass graves at former residential school sites, something Archie said is triggering for elders.
“They’ve healed after all these years, but then they hear stories of all these children being found and then it brings back all those emotions and memories, and they have to start their healing journey again,” she said.
“I think a big part of it is just ensuring we are acknowledging it and giving them a chance to share their stories. We’re having the sacred fire where they can go sit and be with the fire. I think it’s just really important that we acknowledge our survivors and our elders and our children, because when you look around, everybody is impacted by residential schools.”
Even with the horrors of residential school still prevalent, Archie continued on to say that anyone with the opportunity to connect with an elder should do so, be it an in-person COVID-safe visit or even just calling on the phone.
“They like to see people and they like to visit with people,” Archie said.
“Check on your elders. Make sure they’re doing OK. Give them a phone call. You’d be surprised at how much healing you get for yourself just taking the time to visit. Even after all the abuse and trauma and all the things our elders have gone through in residential school… if these elders saw anybody who needed help or assistance with anything, they would not hesitate to help you, whether you are red, white, yellow, brown. They would give you the shirt off their back, even with all they’ve gone through, because that’s who they are as Anishinaabe people. That’s our way of life, to come together and help people.”