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Survivors, supporters shine ‘a bright light’ on strength to mark National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in Whitehorse

At least 200 people gathered at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre

The following story references residential schools. Yukoners 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.

More than 200 people circled around the fire pit outside the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre on the morning of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

The gathering hosted by the Council of Yukon First Nations commenced at 11 a.m. on Sept. 30 with an opening prayer by Elder Dianne Smith of Kwanlin Dün First Nation.

Attendees were encouraged to bring a drum and counsellors were available to offer support. Many attendees wore orange shirts and small red satchels of tobacco were distributed.

Chief Amanda Leas of the Ta’an Kwäch’än Council spoke to the crowd about what she called the journey towards reconciliation.

“It is truly a powerful experience for me as a mother and a young leader here in Whitehorse to be here today and seeing all of us together wearing our orange shirts in honor of the thousands of children who never got to go home,” she said.

“This accomplishment shines a bright light on the strength we can create when we all work together. It is momentum like this that I hope will get us closer to the reconciliation we all long for.”

In honour of the survivors and the children who never got to go home, the Northern Nations Alliance walked from the former Choutla residential school site in Carcross starting on Sept. 29 and ending in Whitehorse on Sept. 30 to join the event.

The national day marks a time to learn about and reflect on the continued impacts of residential schools that had been established to exterminate Indigenous cultures. More than 150,000 children across the country were removed from their homes and families and sent to often distant residential schools.

While the actual number of deaths at the schools continues to be investigated, the national student memorial register has documented 4,122 deaths of First Nations, Inuit and Métis children in residential schools across Canada.

Chief Doris Bill of Kwanlin Dün First Nation said she was grateful for people to come together for community connection and healing.

“I’m so heartened today to see all the support for the survivors and to see so many people wearing orange,” she said.

Bill spoke about the significance of the symbols to recognize the harms of more than 100 years of residential schools, noting that Pope Francis described Canada’s residential school system as genocide.

“It’s time we all start calling it for what it is,” she said.

The Yukon NDP is advocating for Sept. 30 to be made a statutory holiday, and has pledged to bring a private bill to the legislature suggesting this.

The stat holiday designation is one of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s calls to action, the party notes.

“Last year, the government blamed a lack of time. A year later, we’ve yet to see concrete action from this government to allow community members to participate in this day as part of the reconciliation process,” said Kate White, NDP leader, in a press release.

The NDP caucus says they plan to donate their statutory holiday pay to a local Indigenous organization for a second year in a row.

Early on Sept. 30, new crosswalks were revealed at the intersection of Black and Front streets in front of the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre. They read “Every Child Matters” in English and Southern Tutchone and depict three white eagle feathers and handprints.

The crosswalks were designed by Teagyn Vallevand.

The feathers each present a life state, according to Vallevand via a City of Whitehorse press release. One feather for children, for adults and for elders.

In a press release issued on Sept. 29, the Assembly of First Nations Yukon region encouraged Yukoners to take personal responsibility for reconciliation.

The assembly noted that most of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action have not yet been implemented. It prioritized the release of residential school records as one of the “most pressing actions.”

“Before reconciliation, we must get to the truth,” said Regional Chief Kluane Adamek.

Contact Dana Hatherly at

Dana Hatherly

About the Author: Dana Hatherly

I’m the legislative reporter for the Yukon News.
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