A march across Whitehorse in recognition of the first federally recognized Day for Truth and Reconciliation began with 60 people under a grey veil of wet snow. By the time it reached its destination the crowd had swelled to more than 1,000 with orange shirts, hats and scarves shining through the clearing weather.
Several of the marchers who left the Porter Creek Super A at around 9 a.m. were not strangers to walking with those lost to the residential school system in mind. They are the Warrior Walkers for Healing Nations who made a trek from Whitehorse to Kamloops, British Columbia following the discovery of more than 200 unmarked graves at a former residential school there.
The original 60 walkers arrived to cheers and the thud of hand drums as they joined a crowd already in the hundreds assembled at the totem pole near the intersection of Main Street and Front Street in Whitehorse’s downtown. Grand Chief Peter Johnston of the Council of Yukon First Nations led the march along with the Warrior Walkers.
From the totem pole, many of those assembled walked down Second Avenue to the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre in a procession that stretched for blocks.
Once gathered, they heard some final words and prayers from elders around the centre’s sacred fire.
Elder Jessie Dawson, speaking on behalf of Kwanlin Dün Chief Doris Bill, spoke of both the pain and the hope sparked by the “sea of orange” standing around the fire.
“The hurt that many of us have been living with for lifetimes was brought back to the surface this year,” Dawson said.
“We felt the grief and the trauma hearing about the unmarked graves found at the sites of former residential schools.”
“It fills my heart to see all of you here to remember and to honour the lost children and all residential school survivors, their lives were forever changed by their experiences, families were changed through the generations and communities were impacted and are still today.”
She said she was encouraged by the number of people, which she said expressed a willingness to listen and no longer ignore the harms caused by the residential school system.
“Today is our turn to tell our truth. We must have truth before reconciliation.”
“It used to be when we spoke our truths that people would turn away, turn a blind eye to what we were saying; now I see a change happening. I see it in the people here today. And in the people who asked me, What can I do?”
Singers and drummers also recorded a song for Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc, the First Nation located in Kamloops. Those in attendance were offered an opportunity to sew a button onto a blanket, leaving behind a permanent reminder of the first officially observed Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
Yukoners in Whitehorse and the communities can schedule rapid access counselling at 1-867- 456-3838. The national Indian Residential School Crisis Line can be reached at 1-866-925-4419.
Contact Jim Elliot at firstname.lastname@example.org