On the third annual National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, hundreds gathered, dressed in orange shirts, outside the Colonial Building in St. John’s to commemorate the victims and survivors of residential schools.
First Light NL, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing programs and services rooted in the revitalization, strengthening and celebration of Indigenous cultures and languages to Newfoundland and Labrador’s Urban Indigenous and Non-Indigenous communities, and First Voice, an urban-indigenous coalition launched by First Light in 2019, held the rally this year in honour of the victims and survivors.
Speakers at the event included Mi’kmaq elders, Inuit elders, residential school survivor Emma Reelis, along with politicians Minister Seamus O’Regan and Mayor of St. John’s Danny Breen.
The rally showcased numerous speakers, a smudging ceremony, and a traditional healing fire.
Inequity still a major issue
Among the many topics discussed, one of the most repeated was how much progress is still left to be made. An Inuk elder, who was a survivor themself, noted that “Indigenous people are more unemployed, more incarcerated and less educated.”
City of St. John’s Mayor Danny Breen also announced that the city supports all 42 calls for change called for by First Voice. Mayor Breen also noted that many of the calls directly require action from the city, making the commitment that the city will work directly with indigenous groups.
Throughout the rally, volunteers walked through the crowd as part of the smudging ceremony to give everyone the opportunity to take part and share in their cultural practices.
Smudging is a traditional indigenous ritual that involves the burning of sacred herbs and/or plants as a way to cleanse a space, object or ourselves.
Traditional healing fire
A traditional healing fire was also burning near the gazebo at Bannerman Park. Members of the crowd were given the chance at the end of the rally to line up and release a prayer into the fire. People were encouraged to pray for those who don’t have a voice or those who weren’t able to be there.
The fire was said to represent unity and the act of bringing people together.
The biggest focus of the rally was to highlight the victims of the residential school systems, some of whom were present at the rally, and to recognize the generational impacts that they have had on many families.