The Truth and Reconciliation – Let’s Walk the Talk event on March 14 will provide an educational opportunity for Swift Current and area residents to learn more about the residential school experience of Indigenous people in Canada.
A morning session at the Great Plains College gymnasium next Tuesday will be presented to an audience of approximately 150 Chinook School Division students, with Elder Noel Starblanket providing the featured presentation. There will also be a march to Market Square in support of the recommendations made by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The evening boasts a presentation by Elder Starblanket at the Swift Current Library.
The South West Multicultural Association proposed this initiative in response to a survey which determined that 30 per cent of prairie residents hadn’t even heard about Residential Schools. So, clearly, the need to do something to raise awareness of indigenous issues was necessary.
“We are all Treaty people, but do we act like it and demonstrate that?” asked event organizing committee member Bula Ghosh from Great Plains College.
The Theme ‘Let’s Walk the Talk’ was purposely chosen in order to provide some action behind the words of reconciliation.
“We’ve taken the literal meaning of it – walk it and do something about it – then you’ll remember it and your brain will capture it and keep it for some time,” Ghosh said.
Dr. Brian Gobbett, Vice-President, Academic at Great Plains College, said the theme also represents the walk society needs to make in order to make reconciliation a reality.
“It’s a bit of a journey too,” Dr. Gobbett said of the theme. “The idea of walking embodies a concept of journey. We’re all in a journey towards reconciliation.”
“As we walk together, we kind of symbolically are connected in our mutual journey towards reconciliation.”
Dr. Gobbett, who has a PhD in History from the University of Alberta, will present a 15 minute pictorial history of residential schools during the morning session.
The morning’s presentation will include an exposure to Indigenous cultural activities of drumming and singing by the Starblanket singers, a smudging ceremony, a round dance, plus a Metis fiddler and jigger.
The featured portion of the morning will be Elder Starblanket speaking on his own Residential School experiences, and sharing stories of the experiences of others.
“He’ll share some of those experiences and give kind of a very vivid picture of what it was like growing up and going to school in that type of an environment, and the multi generational effects that that’s had,” explained Sheldon Poitras, the Living Sky Casino’s representative on the committee.
Elder Starblanket is Poitras’ uncle, and his own grandfather was in a Residential School. Poitras himself was one of the last groups of students to attend classes at the former Residential School in Lebret.
“We just had a discussion earlier about certain things that are still happening in this day and age – when we deal with racism or bigotry or anything like that – we have a lot of people who don’t believe that still exists. But it does,” Poitras said.
“This is one way to kind of let everyone know that it still exists, whether publicly or underground. Everyone needs to take responsibility for that, and come together and try to find a way to deal with that. But we need to educate before we move forward with a solution.”
Students will then participate in a march from the College to Market Square, and raise the Treaty 4 flag, Metis flag, City of Swift Current flag, Saskatchewan flag, and Canada flag.
Participants will be wearing orange scarves during the march, as orange is the colour of reconciliation and the colour was selected as a reminder of the spirit of healing and reconciliation. There is a National Orange Shirt day in September in recognition of the vivid memory of a Residential School survivor who recalled wearing a new orange shirt for the first day of residential school, but she was quickly dressed in the school’s institutional uniform. Wearing orange has since been adopted as the colour to recognize the experience of residential school survivors, and collectively commit to ensure that every child matters.
Walk participants will also have a chance to enjoy a lunch of bison stew and bannock at the end of their walk.
The evening program at the Swift Current Library from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., is expected to attract a large group for Elder Starblanket’s talk. It will be a similar presentation from the morning session, and was purposely done to allow for people who work during the day to learn about this topic.
“Many of our newcomer students who are in the English Language class are working during the day,” Ghosh explained. “We want the newcomers to understand this part of the history of Canada. Everybody needs to understand this.”
The focus of the day is for people to listen respectfully to the information, and decide how they can make their own efforts towards reconciliation.
“I think not just the students, but the adults too that are here are going to get an education in First Nations culture,” explained committee member Ron Toles. “Canada is a country of tradition, but we don’t celebrate our tradition.”
“If we can find ways to teach that are more than just a text book, it makes it real.”
The Southwest Multicultural Association has partnered with the City of Swift Current, Living Sky Casino, and Great Plains College, with support from Sask Culture and the Multicultural Council of Saskatchewan, to host the March 14 event.