The history of Indian Residential School (IRS) and the effect they had on indigenous people was recently illustrated to over 300 of the district's students.
Five elementary schools across the district came to Rainy River First Nations' (RRFN) Orange Shirt Day Awareness Walk on Oct. 1. They marched from the reserve's IRS Monument on Hwy. 11 to its pow-wow grounds and participated in various workshops.
Marcel Medicine Horton of the IRS Working Group, who helped organized the event, said he's thrilled with the students responses and deemed it a great success.
“The fact we had a full grandstand of kids sitting at the pow wow grounds with actual residential school survivors is incredible. . . This is living history, it isn't something you read in a text book from 800 years ago,” he reasoned.
“Our kids have direct firsthand knowledge from our former survivors.”
Medicine Horton said at RRFN, there are only 14 residential school survivors alive out of the 154 band members who attended, making events like these extremely important.
“We've got to flood the kids with those people's knowledge, and their experience," he stressed. "All that we want is for it to never happen again.”
The workshops participants learned about the history of “Orange Shirt Day,” the impacts of IRS, Canada's apology to the survivors, reconciliation, and the healing powers of the jingle dress and drum.
Medicine Horton most enjoyed the response students had to traditional drumming performed by the H'anisha singers group.
“They are the keepers of our songs, they were born to sing, it's obvious to see that. It's a blessing from the creator,” he lauded.
“These men here have this gift of song.”
Another one of Medicine Horton's favourite aspects of the event was watching how the kids would light up when the drum was played.
Meanwhile, the purpose of the awareness walk was to move the community towards reconciliation, he noted.
“This is the early steps of reconciliation,” Medicine Horton said.
“We have a beautiful, beautiful loving culture and it's time that we share that with our neighbours and whoever else wants to come to the dance.”
He says the best path moving forward is to reconcile the past atrocities committed against indigenous people throughout the 20th century.
And wile the Anishinaabe have seven grandfather teachings, Medicine Horton said there should be an eighth teaching-forgiveness.
“It starts with forgiveness, we have to forgive ourselves, forgive Canadian government, forgive the churches, forgive our neighbours-that's the start of reconciliation to me,” Medicine Horton remarked.
"We have to start unburdening ourselves with that trauma, myself included. I'm only a short run in my life without that captain Smirnoff guiding my boat.
“But you know what, right now my life is great, no other way around it,” added Medicine Horton, who's a Sixties Scoop survivor that formerly struggled with alcoholism.
He says one of the main misconceptions around residential schools is that they offered some form of higher learning.
“It was not higher learning, not even close,” Medicine Horton stressed.
“When you listen to our old people, [who attended] they say it was nothing but torture, absolute torture and trauma.”
Of the 155,000 residential school students in Canada, over 6,000 died, while 80,000 are still living today, as highlighted in Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Medicine Horton would like to thank the event's treaty partners which include The Northwestern Catholic District School Board (TNCDSB) and Rainy River District School Board (RRDSB).
“I have to admit eight to nine, or 10 years ago it was absolutely difficult to get any First Nation curriculum though the school boards and now we actually have truly legitimate treaty partners in TNCDSB and RRDSB as well,” he noted.
“They are true, legitimate treaty partners and we've never had that before.”
Medicine Horton would also like to thank the Red Drum Society who helped lead the awareness walk, Harold McQuaker Ltd., and IRS Working Committee, which primarily consists of residential school survivors who helped lead the workshops.
Next year's RRFN Awareness Walk will feature Phyllis Webstad, who first started “Orange Shirt Day” in 2013.