SAINT ANDREWS – While Thursday, Sept. 30, the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, a new federal holiday, has not been adopted as a holiday in New Brunswick, that won’t stop Saint Andrews Deputy Mayor, Kate Akagi of the Peskotomuhkati Nation from marking the day.
Akagi and co-hort Judith Moses will host the St. Andrews Solemn Walk on Thursday at Indian Point in Saint Andrews, from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.
“Basically what we’re doing is we wanted something simple outside the church,” said Akagi.
“We wanted it to be simple, with reverence for these residential school survivors and for those who didn’t survive.”
She said when Canada Day celebrations were replaced with events to honour the lives of the children found at former residential schools across the country, the Anglican church opened its doors for the ceremony, but it didn’t feel like the right place to Akagi, and she decided this gathering would be different.
“We decided we didn’t want it in a church,” said Akagi, “People don’t want it related to the church.
“Outside is more reverent, and on a fair playing field,” she added.
The ceremony will start with a smudge, which people can participate in if they choose.
“The smudge is like a purification,” said Akagi. “Getting yourself calm, having good thoughts. Bringing together your mind, your body, and your heart.”
Akagi said following the smudge ceremony, Moses will talk about truth and reconciliation and what it means, as it goes back decades. Akagi will follow by telling the story behind the wearing of orange, and orange shirt day.
Wearing orange to show support for the Indigenous community began in 2013, as a day of remembrance, held annually on September 30.
Wearing orange is done “to honour the children who survived the Indian Residential Schools and remember those that didn’t,” says orangeshirtday.org
“Every Child Matters. We will wear orange shirts in recognition of the harm the residential school system did to children’s sense of self-esteem and well-being, and as an affirmation of our commitment to ensure that everyone around us matters.”
The day and the orange shirt, originated thanks to a story told by residential school survivor, Phyllis Jack Webstad from Dog Creek, B.C.
Webstad had been gifted an orange shirt by a family member for her first day at the residential school in Mission, B.C. The shirt was taken on her first day at the school.
“Of course, when I got to the Mission, they stripped me, and took away my clothes, including the orange shirt,” recounted Webstad years later.
“Since then the colour orange has always reminded me of that and how my feelings didn’t matter, how no one cared and how I felt like I was worth nothing.”
Finally, there will be two minutes of silence followed by a reflective and solemn walk around Indian Point, and leave in silence. Akagi said she hopes people will feel “prayerful”.
When asked about Premier Blaine Higgs decision not to adopt Thursday as a provincial holiday, Akagi said she wishes he had.
“It’s another way to help with the grieving of the loss in residential school system,” said Akagi. “He should have, I don’t know his reasoning for not doing it.
“I still think he should have honoured the day in memory of them.
“It’s a sad occasion for the loss of the children. He should have acknowledged it as well.”
Akagi said officially recognizing the day would have “gone a long way” to healing relationships with Indigenous and First Nations communities.
Akagi said the best way New Brunswickers can show their support for the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation is to wear the orange shirt.
“I’d like to sea a sea of orange T-shirts,” said Akagi.
“And I hope they (who wear the orange shirt) know why. It was a really a important thing to show; you see a sea of orange, you’re going to look and know, and then you stop and think.
“It says ‘we’re sorry for what happened, and we wont forget what happened’.
It says ‘I didn’t know these people, but I am sorry that this actually happened’.”
Akagi also credits the Town of Saint Andrews for being so supportive of the truth and reconciliation events.
“The town has respected it,” said Akagi, “and they’ve supported us with this event”
Donations will be taken at the event, and funds raised will be in effort of helping St. Stephen’s University create and offer a truth and reconciliation course.
“We need to take of the earth, and people in it,” said Akagi.
“We all need to part of the whole solution.”