Hundreds Participate in Walk of Healing and Recognition

A sea of orange clad walkers spanned over a half kilometre for the 2nd annual “You Can Hear Us, A Walk Of Healing And Recognition” on September 30th. Over three hundred students from Lion’s Head, Wiarton and Owen Sound schools, along with community members from North and South Bruce (Saugeen) Peninsula, participated in the walk to commemorate National Day of Truth and Reconciliation.
By Joanne Rodgers, Bruce Peninsula Press

Over three hundred students from Lion’s Head, Wiarton and Owen Sound schools along with community members from North and South Bruce (Saugeen) Peninsula participated in a Walk to commemorate National Day of Truth and Reconciliation on September 30, 2022.

The group gathered at the intersection of Purple Valley Road and McIver Road and at 10:30 a.m. started to walk towards the “Every Child Matters” orange sign located near McIver Road and Boundary Road. At the same time, community members from Neyaashiinigmiing also walked towards the orange sign to greet the oncoming walkers. 

Nawash Chief Veronica Smith, Nawash Elders, Drummer/singer Sheila Robson, Carmen Jones (Community Activation) welcomed the walkers. Both the Chief and Jones expressed their appreciation on seeing so many of the younger generation present.

Jones said it is time to share truth, not to point blame or to judge, but the truth needs to be heard and talked about. He stated that we are all here to stay on this land, so we need to build relationships. Then everyone was invited to stand in unity and observe a moment of silence to honour the lives of the 10,028 children whose remains have been found at former Residential School sites across Canada. Robson performed the “Seeds of Love” song in remembrance of all those Children. Elder John Gerry Keeshig said “The Children are looking down at us today and are smiling with us.”

With nature offering a tinge of gold, red and orange, both groups of walkers dressed in the signature orange symbolizing “Every Child Matters” creating a ribbon of colour, stretching over a half kilometre, as they walked in unity towards the Pow Wow grounds at Neyaashiinigmiing.

A somber ceremony was held at the Pow Wow Grounds on the arrival of all the Walkers, opening with a prayer from Residential School Survivor, Nawash Elder Berdina Johnston. A day described as a bittersweet affair, the Nawash Chief expressed her appreciation of the neighboring communities for coming “to learn and share in our sorrow as we honour our Residential School Children who are being recovered from the schoolyard graves, we honour their young spirits for their innocent lives that were taken.” Continuing she said “This year 4,000 Children have been added and there will be many, many more Children recovered.”

The Chief tearfully acknowledged that she herself is an intergenerational survivor “my mother was a residential school survivor. I still have a hard time talking about my family’s experience.”

Fire Keeper Jimmy Greg tends the Sacred Fire. The Chief invited attendees “to offer tobacco and say your prayers for the children, for our families, for our water, for Mother Earth and for our future generations for those who are coming and yet to be born, you can say your own prayers and ask for healing.”

She explained that Colonization has impacted all indigenous people, with the effects still being felt today “by the Indian Act, the Residential Schools, the Wars, the 60s Scoop, the Millennium scoop and now we have Climate Change also due to Colonization and Industry … for the sake of money!” 

She said “it is not just a time for sorrow but a time to celebrate our strength and our resiliency. We are still here. Despite their tactics to annihilate us, using their institutions of cultural genocide.”

She described the challenges facing her people saying “We need to address poverty, health services, mental health and addictions in our communities. These are all symptoms of Colonization and Trauma. This is why it is good to see our friends and our neighbours who are here because they care and that does mean a lot to us. Thank you!”.

She thanked the organizers and sponsors of the event, and for the donation to the Maadookii Seniors Program and for the gifts. 

Organizer Marydale Ashcroft thanked the Chief and the Nawash community for their welcome to their lands, saying that “we gather to recognize their hurt and how to go forward on this day of hope.”

Dannah Oliver read the Land Acknowledgement Statement. 

The Chief had earlier explained that “The Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation share the Saugeen Ojibway Territory with their sister Nation, Saugeen First Nation and together their traditional territory stretches from Goderich east to Arthur, north east to Collingwood and north to the tip of the Saugeen Peninsula which is formally known as Bruce Peninsula.”

Emmy Arnold made the Tobacco offering to the Chief.

Dierdre Mililar of Nawash said it was a powerful feeling watching the large group of walkers come towards them as they had no clue how many walkers would participate in the event. She said “Acknowledgement is great but there is a need for action.” She specially thanked the students for coming, as they are the future leaders, the ones who can change policies, minds and attitudes. She invited all the participants to step out of their comfort zone and introduce themselves to someone new; to start a conversation with someone you don’t know. Then when you see them on the street elsewhere, they are no longer a stranger. She says this is how we walk and learn, by listening, growing and healing.

Participants were invited to form a circle, spreading out across the Pow Wow grounds, to join hands in unity.

All the participants were invited to form a circle, spreading out across the Powwow grounds, to join hands in unity. Then the non-indigenous visitors were asked to introduce themselves to an indigenous person and offer them a gift of a notebook. 

The organizers had prepared a gift, containing a notebook with a indigenous motif cover, a pen and a bookmark with a written pledge to be an ally, to build trust and to listen and learn.

After the conclusion of the formal proceedings, participants enjoyed social time sharing a meal of sandwiches, fruits, desserts and beverages. The food was sponsored by Nawash Band Council, Healthy Living, Family Well-being, Youth Mental Health, Maadookii Seniors Centre, Kikendaasogamig, The Salvation Army, Bridge Construction, Tim Hortons and Josie’s Fashions.

A Tobermory resident felt the event was “welcoming”, a Lion’s Head resident described it as “heartwarming”, a couple from Oliphant “was glad they were here”, and a BPDS student said it was an “awesome” experience. A Nawash Band Member said it was “amazing” to see the large turnout.