Orange Shirt Day and Shiny New Shoes… Truth and Reconciliation

By Angela Bellegarde, Our Kids Network Indigenous Lead

What do Orange Shirt Day and shiny new shoes have in common?

For many of us, pandemic or not, the beginning of a new school year is marked with the ritual of purchasing new clothes. Phyllis Webstad is the founder of Orange Shirt Day. Her grandmother bought her a new orange shirt to wear on her first day of Indian residential school. For my aunt, the excitement of wearing shiny new shoes to school was only eclipsed by finally being in school with her big brothers and sister. The thrill of starting school in new clothes didn’t last long. The children had their new clothes taken away as soon as they arrived for their very first day of school.

Four Indigenous children stand in front of a house. They are all dressed in new formal suits and dresses.
My aunt, far right, wearing her shiny new shoes, poses for a picture with her brothers and sister.

I often identify myself as a fourth generation Residential School Survivor.

A stretch in some people’s eyes, given I didn’t actually attend residential school. In a recent conversation with one of my aunts, I was reminded that my Mooshum, my great grandfather, was identified as the twelfth person to be enrolled at Lebret Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan. My grandparents and my father attended that same school, and I have had the privilege to learn first-hand about residential school from two generations before me. Our family has a long history with the Residential School System and I am still coming to terms with the long-term effects of this as I parent my own children. I guess this is why the impact of the residential school experience is called “intergenerational trauma”. It doesn’t skip a generation.

If you think about it we all tend to parent in the way we were parented. I grew up in a fairly rigid household. My father wasn’t parented by his parents for most of his life. He was raised in a system that denied him his identity and culture. I was raised with similar rigidity and values. Rules had to be followed or punishment ensued. Being on time meant being at least ten minutes early. My sister and I had many rules about how we could dress and how long our hair could be. We had to play sports – team sports preferred – and there was no getting out of it. While other kids were enjoying Easter break, my sister and I were at softball camp getting ready for the season, but only after we had attended all the religious ceremonies associated with Easter. As a parent, I now look back on my childhood and can understand why following rules was so important to my father.

But I didn’t always get it. I think about the way my father always walked with his toes up in the air. It looked odd. He told me it was because the floors were cold at residential school and you had to walk with as little of your foot on the ground as possible. I didn’t believe him. I didn’t believe his stories.

Stop and think about the children in your life for a minute.

Can you imagine the government taking them away from you, often with the threat of incarceration if you did not let them go to a school that might be days away? My auntie was so excited to be with her siblings. When pressed to discuss though, she explained that she was able to see her big sister in the halls once in a while, and sometimes her brothers on Sundays after mass, if there was a sporting event. She shared a dormitory with many other little girls away from their parents for the first time. She told me with a sad smile, “Reality set in that first night, but that was the way it was. You didn’t question it.”

So maybe you too can see why I didn’t get it. I We simply cannot imagine our children not being able to share in the rituals of bedtime stories and cuddles, or not having their siblings at their side to comfort them. The Residential School System was an implement of the Canadian government which was determined to methodically “take the Indian out of the child”. This seems unbelievable to us today. We cannot imagine not having the right to question government policy and the elected officials who represent us in Ottawa.

And in some ways the system worked. My father’s and my family do not speak our mother-tongue language, Cree. The same is true with spiritual practices, but we are revitalizing this aspect of our lives as best we can.

I am sharing with you the TRUTH in Truth and Reconciliation. Perhaps you are thinking the same thing I did when I listened to my father’s residential school stories. Everyone has a ”I had to walk to school and back in 40 degree below weather uphill both ways” story. I began to understand the scope of the atrocities of Canada’s Residential School System right around the time I took my first Indigenous Studies course in university. I was in my twenties before I really began to comprehend my own family’s long history with Canada’s education system. I apologized to my father. I knew then that his stories were true  and I regret that I only came to this realization after learning about the traumatic impact of residential schools in a Euro-centric institution of higher learning.

The Lebret (Qu’Appelle, St. Paul’s, Whitecalf) Industrial School, (1884 – 1998) operated by the Roman Catholic Church (Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate and the Grey Nuns) from 1884 until 1973, was one of the first three industrial schools that opened following the recommendations of the Davin Report, and was fully funded by the government.
This school was located on the White Calf (Wa-Pii Moos-Toosis) Reserve, west of the village of Lebret on Treaty 4 land. Lebret school has a long history as one of the first industrial schools to open and the last to close.

I have come to realize that my family primarily shares fond memories of their time at Lebret Indian Residential School.

They are reluctant to speak about the difficult times. My aunts and uncles talk about how they learned to play musical instruments, the championships won in hockey and basketball, and that they were able to wear their own clothes on Sundays. It is astounding to me that all of my dad’s siblings went on to post-secondary education. Indeed, many of the graduates of Lebret Indian Residential School went on to varied and interesting careers such as NHL scouts and actors in some of Hollywood’s biggest films.

Upon reflection of my family’s experiences, I realize that in order to survive at residential school, and to cope with the awful memories, it helps to look on the bright side of things. The positive stories I hear mask their unfathomable painful experiences. Going too much beyond fond memories takes gentle and careful prodding. Laughter is used to nudge those difficult memories to the surface.

Playing team sports was required, but it also meant it might be the only time you could interact with a sibling. Being on a team meant you belonged and had support of team mates in the classroom and dormitories. If you learned that your little brother was being bullied, you took care of it on the ice or the field. Being part of the choir meant you might be able to leave the school premises to sing at a neighbouring church. If you were deemed intelligent enough, the priest could arrange for you to further your education. It is clear from these stories that Indigenous people did not have control over their own lives. Some would argue, we still don’t.

Without the truth, reconciliation will not be realized in a meaningful way.

All Canadians bear the burden of the truth of the harm and trauma caused by Canada’s Residential School System. If you don’t think it affects you because you are not Indigenous, I encourage you to continue learning about Truth and Reconciliation. There are excellent, free courses available such as the University of Alberta’s Indigenous Canada program. 

We are all interconnected in some way. Reconciliation is important for all Canadians and without the truth, reconciliation will not be realized in a meaningful way.

On Sept 30, wear an orange shirt. This is a day to be a good ally, remember those who were taken by the Residential School System and commit to learning more about the truth. Help carry the burden and build a better future for Canada.

All my relations,
Angela

Learn more about Orange Shirt Day: https://www.orangeshirtday.org/phyllis-story.html

Mohawk College presents a virtual presentation with Phylis Webstad, Executive Director of Orange Shirt Day campaign. Sept. 29th, 12 to 1 p.m. https://events.eply.com/2020OrangeShirtDay

The Jingle Dress Dance: Self-expression and Healing

This blog has been edited for accuracy (paragraphs 7 & 8) and republished.

Introduction by Angela Bellegarde, Our Kids Network Indigenous Lead

Raven Sutherland is Plains Cree and Saulteaux from Lake St. Martin First Nation in Manitoba, currently living in Ontario. Upon learning that Raven is a competitive jingle dress dancer, I invited her to write a blog on this entrancing cultural art form to help OKN celebrate National Indigenous History Month. She has been dancing for more than 10 of her 20 years at seasonal and competitive powwows.

As a recent graduate from the Conestoga College Advertising and Marketing Communications Program, Raven plans to integrate inclusivity, emotion, and empowerment into her work.

The Jingle Dress Dance: Self-expression and Healing

By Raven Sutherland, Jingle Dress Dancer

The jingle dress dance comes from the Ojibwe people in Ontario and is known to be a healing dance. As Indigenous people, we believe in the healing of this medicine. 

I was called to the jingle dress dance at a very young age and have now been a jingle dancer for over 10 years. For me, dancing means healing, love, and the honour of carrying on such an important gift given to us by the Creator. In learning the dance, I was taught that you dance for the ones who can’t; for the ones whose culture was stolen; and for the ones who are sick. Jingle dancing is a very meaningful art form that dancers put all of themselves into. It is a part of my identity and a huge part of reclaiming my culture, because I am an intergenerational survivor of the Sixties Scoop. 

Regalia

What I love about the regalia we wear for powwow dancing, is how different they all are. That’s because our regalia is a form of self-expression and represents who you are as a person. Some designs, colours and feathers are passed down from generation to generation. Others are created by dancers to express themselves.

My regalia focuses on the colour purple because I have always been drawn to that colour. I want my regalia to be bright, colourful and something I feel beautiful and proud wearing. My mom and I design all of my outfits together and I often have a vision of what I want it to look like before I come to her with an idea. Creating regalia can be healing for many people and brings families together.

Modern day jingle cones and lids are sewn onto dresses by Indigenous dancers. The jingles sound like rain and they carry the prayers up to the creator. Traditionally, there are supposed to be 365 jingles on a dress; one for every day of the year. While you sew your dress, you should be thinking good thoughts and prayers.

Petitioners can give the jingle dancers tobacco to pray for them, or for something specific. A particular song and dance will be dedicated to the person who gives the tobacco.

Powwow

One common question I hear is “Can I attend a powwow if I’m not native?” The answer is yes, of course! We welcome everyone from all walks of life to come and experience our culture. There are plenty of “powpow 101” resources online. Do some research before you attend or if you’re unfamiliar with the dances. A word about powwow etiquette: please never touch or pull on a dancer’s regalia or take a picture without their permission. Each dancer has a personal and spiritual connection to their regalia that must be respected.

So come and join us at powwow, have an open mind, and enjoy our traditional food, song, drumming and dances. It is an amazing experience and an educational opportunity for you and your children.

Happy National Indigenous History Month!

For more information, read Pamela Sexsmith’s story about 76-year-old jingle dress dancer Evelyn Thom, a powerful role model and inspiration for young dancers. Windspeaker Publication.

National Indigenous Peoples Day: What does June 21 mean to you?

By Angela Bellegarde, Our Kids Network Indigenous Lead

On Sunday, many of us will be celebrating Father’s Day. Some of you will be enjoying a beautiful day reading a great book, by an Indigenous author, of course (#Indigenousreads). For Indigenous people in Canada, June 21 is a very special day: National Indigenous Peoples Day.

National Indigenous Peoples Day has been a long time coming and is now a day devoted to celebrating the unique and distinct culture and heritage of Indigenous people all across Canada. June 21 is also the Summer Solstice and, as such, is a traditional day of spiritual ceremony and celebration for Indigenous peoples.

Three Indigenous people in traditional dress are smiling and talking
Photo credit: Government of Canada – National Indigenous Peoples Day  

This year coming together to celebrate will look very different for us. Rather than feeling the beat of the pow wow drum deep in my heart, I will have to celebrate with virtual and televised events. For me, it will also be a day of reflection on how far National Indigenous Peoples Day has come as a significant day of observance and celebration in Canadian culture.

I look back fondly to the late 1990s, when my sister and her husband were living in a very non-Indigenous suburb of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan! This particular neighbourhood was newly developed and had expensive homes backing onto a large lake with walking trails. It was the central gathering spot for the community.

My brother-in-law decided that June 21 would be a great day to introduce his family to the neighbours. He arranged to have a tipi erected by the lake and ensured there was bannock and jam for us to share. He welcomed their non-Indigenous neighbours, and we relaxed and talked together all evening. It was wonderful! Everyone was so inquisitive and grateful for the opportunity to enter an actual tipi, and the questions were respectful and genuine.

I never let this special day go by without a celebration (even a quiet one) of some kind. This year, in addition to all the events happening on the internet, I intend to take a walk (physically distancing of course), on the Moccasin Trail in the Town of Oakville and give thanks for being Indigenous.

What will you be doing?

Do you know why June is special at Our Kids Network?

It is National Indigenous History Month and We are Celebrating!

By Angela Bellegarde, Our Kids Network Indigenous Lead

June is one of the best months of the year! Children and youth look forward to summer and celebrate the end of school. Families look forward to vacations and engaging in outdoor pursuits. This year, Canadians are faced with an entirely new way of spending the summer months, so how about taking the opportunity to discover and learn more about the Indigenous people of Canada?

Three adolescent children of Indigenous heritage.

So where do you start?

Canada.ca
The Government of Canada website National Indigenous History Month section is a good place to begin your journey. Make your first stop at the Indigenous History-Makers section and meet Métis author, Cherie Dimaline, Jesse Cockney, an Olympic Inuvialuk cross-country skier, and Dr. Nadine Caron, a member of the Sagamok Anishnawbek First Nation and Canada’s first female First Nations general surgeon…and many more. These amazing individuals are just a few of the innumerable Indigenous people making Canada and the world a better, more interesting and more creative place to live.

ourkidsnetwork.ca
The Our Kids Network website Indigenous Reconciliation section is another great place to look for resources. Want to do a territorial announcement at your next meeting or event? We have a whole section to assist you. (Scroll to the bottom of the page.)

This just the beginning, friends!

In the coming weeks, Our Kids Network will be engaged in many activities to help you learn more about our Indigenous Reconciliation Initiative.

Check your inbox frequently for new messages. Follow us on Twitter @OurKidsNetwork. If you haven’t already, subscribe to our blog to learn about the exciting ways Our Kids Network is celebrating National Indigenous History month!

Aniin, Bozhoo, Sekon, Tansi, and Tawow!

Hello and Welcome…
You just took the first step in the journey of Indigenous Reconciliation.
Are you ready to move a mountain?

By Angela Bellegarde, Our Kids Network Indigenous Lead

What does Indigenous Reconciliation have to do with helping children and youth thrive? The answer may not be obvious at first, but the two concepts are, in fact, quite connected. Our Kids Network (OKN) has always been at the forefront of supporting community partners to identify issues and facilitate collaborative strategies and action. The Asset-Building movement, Early Years Initiative, the Early Years Mental Health Toolkit and the OKN Data Portal 2.0 are all examples of OKN and community led initiatives and strategies that support children and youth to thrive.

OKN is once again working on a critically important initiative; an Indigenous Reconciliation Strategy that will educate and engage OKN community partners in one of the most important and transformative movements in Canadian history.

A toddler-age girl holds her parents' hands and has a big smile as they walk through the park together.

Think about the Children

Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) should be familiar to you and all Canadians by now. And perhaps you’ve heard about Residential Schools…

Well, in 2008, the TRC began its work to hear from thousands Indigenous people who attended the 130 Residential Schools that were in operation across Canada between 1831 and 1996. The purpose of the schools was to assimilate Indigenous children into the non-Indigenous way of being. The brutality experienced by these children has resulted in generations of Indigenous people struggling with lasting trauma.

Think about it for a minute. If you have children in your life right now, how would you feel if they were forcibly taken away from you by the government for the entire school year? You would have very little opportunity to teach them your values, traditions, and culture. Think about it from the children’s perspective. It is so difficult to imagine how afraid and confused they felt to be forced away from the people they trusted and loved, and the places where they were growing up …all at the hands of Canadian government officials. Unfortunately, I can imagine it because my father was a survivor of the Residential School System, as were my aunts and uncles. By now we are all aware of the reasons for the term Residential School Survivor.

The time is now to develop your knowledge of Indigenous people in Canada. You can visit the National Center for Truth and Reconciliation.

So Why is OKN Involved in Indigenous Reconciliation?

Well, for a number of reasons. OKN believes in what is stated in the TRC Final Report. That is, in order for Canada to flourish in the twenty-first century, reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people must be based on the Ten Principles of Reconciliation. We must be inspired to transform Canadian society so that our children and grandchildren can live together in dignity, peace, and prosperity on these lands we now share. (www.trc.ca)

OKN has a critical role to play in this goal by developing a Halton-wide Indigenous Reconciliation Strategy that is informed by the 94 Calls to Action and work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). Our substantial network of agencies that support children and youth can be successful in honoring the Calls to Action through collective impact.

We know that the Residential School System has left a legacy of inter-generational trauma. One in four First Nations children live in poverty compared to 1 in 9 of other Canadian children. We know that Indigenous children in Halton and Canada are over represented in foster care. First Nations children more frequently come into contact with child welfare as a result of neglect and risk factors associated with poverty rather than referrals for physical or sexual abuse.

With an Indigenous Reconciliation Strategy in place, OKN and its community partners can play a significant role in ensuring that ALL children and youth in Halton thrive, including Indigenous children.

Increase your Indigenous literacy by exploring OKN’s Indigenous Reconciliation Strategy at OKN Indigenous Reconciliation.