The echo of drums and the smell of medicinal sage are present at the foot of Mount Royal on Saturday. Hundreds of people dressed in orange gathered to mark the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Similar protests are happening across the country.
“I was given a number. I was five years old, and I wasn’t even considered a person. Can you imagine that? “, an emotional residential school survivor asked an audience dressed in orange. At the foot of Mount Royal, hundreds of people gathered Saturday afternoon in honor of these victims and survivors of residential schools for natives.
On the spot, emotions come to the surface. “It’s breaking my heart right now,” he told The Press Beverly Shaw, a participant in the march. Her mother is a residential school survivor from the Restigouche region of New Brunswick. “She died in October 2020”, underlines Mme Shaw. At the same time, the discovery of anonymous graves of indigenous children on the sites of former residential schools in Canada made headlines, amplifying his pain. “I think people need to understand our past, the intergenerational trauma. And this walk is a way of healing for us,” she explains.
For Sarah Qumak, present with her two daughters aged four and nine, this walk is also a way of honoring her now deceased father. Another residential school survivor. “He can’t be there, so I’m here for him,” she explains. On a sign carried by little Diana, the number assigned to the patriarch in the boarding school: E9-2039.
A series of speeches and musical and ceremonial performances were held from 1 p.m. in Jeanne-Mance Park to launch the march. “We’re still here!” “, told the crowd Kevin Deer, elder of the Mohawk community of Kahnawake, near Montreal. “People need to listen to us, because our voices have been silenced. »
Among the speeches, a few themes recur, such as the fact that Quebec Prime Minister François Legault does not recognize the systemic racism of which Indigenous people are victims, according to those present. “I am disgusted by these politicians who talk about this day, but who do nothing when they are in office,” denounced Helen Gabriel, activist and Mohawk artist from the Kanesatake community. “We must remember the children who never came home,” she added. “Shame on Canada!” Shame on Quebec! »
Another recurring theme: the importance of reconnecting and being supported by non-Indigenous people. ” We can not [mener le combat] alone,” singer-songwriter Beatrice Deer told the crowd.
In the middle of the orange wave, Anja Runganaikaloo wipes away her tears. A year ago, she learned that her father’s first love was an Indigenous woman. “He was denied his identity all his life,” she says, disturbed. “It makes me sad, and I think that many Canadians and Quebecers do not recognize their own history. There are many more people affected than we think. »
The parade started around 2 p.m. The crowd headed downtown, heading to Place du Canada, on rue De La Gauchetière. A stop in front of McGill University is planned.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement released Saturday morning that reconciliation is the responsibility of “each of us.”
“Today, on this National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, also known as Orange Shirt Day, we face the lasting consequences of the residential school system for First Nations, Inuit and Métis people. in Canada. We come together to remember the children who were taken from their communities and those whose lives were stolen in these so-called schools. We honor survivors, many of whom were victims of physical, emotional and sexual abuse. We listen to their truths and we reiterate our commitment to building a better future for Indigenous peoples and for everyone in Canada,” the Prime Minister wrote.
The Prime Minister of Quebec, François Legault, for his part wrote in a publication on X, formerly Twitter: “On this National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, let us remember their stories. We all have a duty to know each other better, to understand each other better.”
The mayor of Montreal, Valérie Plante, invited citizens to “listen to our fellow Indigenous citizens and reflect on their historical contribution” on the occasion of this day.
“Together, we are moving forward on the path to reconciliation with heart and conviction,” she said, in a message published on X.
With The Canadian Press