Canadians observe National Day of Healing

Published May 26, 2009

Canadians marked May 26, the National Day of Healing and Reconciliation, with various events across the country, including a sunrise ceremony, an evening feast, multi-media presentations and speeches at Sioux Lookout, which was chosen as the official host of the annual commemoration.

A grassroots initiative that began in 1998, the National Day of Healing and Reconciliation was inspired by Australia’s National Sorry Day, which had been triggered by a report detailing the abuse suffered by thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children who were forcibly taken from their families.

The National Day of Healing and Reconciliation in Canada aims to “effect healing and reconciliation among all races, creeds, and denominations residing in Canada.”

At the Anglican Church of Canada’s national office, staff commemorated the day by watching the award-winning DVD Niigaanibatowaad: FrontRunners, and using it as a starting point for exploring the painful legacy of forced assimilation of natives through the residential schools.

Written by Laura Robinson and filmed for the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, FrontRunners tells the story of 10 indigenous young men who were chosen to carry the torch for the 1967 Pan American Games from St. Paul, Minn., to Winnipeg. Upon their arrival at the Winnipeg stadium, however, they were barred from entering and the honour of carrying the torch inside was given to a white Canadian. In 1999, the province of Manitoba issued a formal apology to the runners, nine of them students of residential schools.

In Winnipeg’s The Forks, people gathered for a day-long event that featured a sunrise pipe ceremony, a community feast, a sharing of stories dubbed “Under a Listening Tent,” and “Music, Speaking and Listening Thoughts on Healing and Reconciliation.”Churches that administered these residential schools – Anglican, Presbyterian, United, and Roman Catholic – have been encouraging their congregations to spend the month between May 26 and June 21, National Aboriginal Day, on activities focusing on healing and reconciliation.

On June 11, the first anniversary of Canada’s apology to the children, parents, and families of former residential schools students, the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) has organized a “National Day of Reconciliation” in Ottawa.AFN chief Phil Fontaine is urging Canadians to join him, church leaders, politicians and others in the event to “remind the federal government that the apology calls for the establishment of a new standard of behaviour toward Aboriginal people.”

In a press statement, Mr. Fontaine said “now is the time to move forward on the next step in our journey, and that is to enter a new era of reconciliation in Canada. We believe Canadians care, and that they believe in fairness and justice.”The AFN-organized event will begin with a sunrise ceremony at 5:30 a.m. on Victoria Island. It will be followed by a unity rally on Parliament Hill at noon.”Our unity rally on June 11th in Ottawa will be symbolic of the journey we must all make together,” said Mr. Fontaine. “We will reach our destination when First Nations live in healthy communities and raise children who can pursue their goals and dreams, and when First Nations share in the riches of this, their traditional homeland.”

Last year, in a long-awaited apology on behalf of the federal government, Prime Minister Stephen Harper called the treatment of children in Indian residential schools “a sad chapter in our history,” and said, “today, we recognize that this policy of assimilation was wrong, has caused great harm, and has no place in our country.”


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