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On Reconciliation Day, solemn reflection and cultural pride takes centre stage in Wortley Village | CBC News

Hundreds of people gathered at Wortley Village Green Friday for a day of dancing, song and prayer, as people from across the London, Ont., region reflected back on the legacy of Canada’s residential school system, paying tribute to those who survived it and the children who never returned. 

On the second National Day of Truth and Reconciliation, Sept. 30, 2022, there was a sunrise ceremony at site of the former Mount Elgin Residential School at Chippewa of the Thames First Nation and a new mural unveiled at the N’Amerind Friendship Centre in downtown London to commemorate the estimated 4,100 children who died or went missing from residential schools across Canada.

The biggest event in the region unfolded over the course of the day at Wortley Green, a sprawling patch of emerald grass in the heart of Wortley Village, where hundreds in orange shirts gathered in the park-like setting to take in dancing, drumming, Indigenous songs and even picnic in the shade of nearby trees. 

Amid the cries of traditional singers and the aroma of burning sweetgrass, tobacco and sage, people hugged, stooped low to offer tobacco to the fire in prayer and even wept — to mark an emotional day for many. 

‘Today is very special’

“Today is very special. It’s nice to see all these people in orange shirts. It’s a very big feeling that’s being brought to my heart,” said Glen Henry, 58, of Chippewa of the Thames First Nation, who had the honour of tending the traditional fire throughout the duration of Friday’s ceremonies. 

Glen Henry, 58, of Chippewa of the Thames First Nation, fans the flames of a traditional fire at Wortley Green, one of the sites of the second annual National Day of Truth and Reconciliation ceremonies in London, Ont. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

Henry said Friday’s ceremony at Wortley Green and its celebration of local Indigenous culture, stands in sharp contrast to the historic wrongs of residential schools, when it was official government policy to tear children from their homes and families to be “re-educated.”

“Today, that we can celebrate our culture, our ways, it makes me feel good. We don’t have to hide our ways anymore. We can do our medicines. We can do our healings. There is still a lot of healing we need to do and that’s what we’re working on — we’re healing our people. So this day means a lot to me.” 

The federal statutory holiday, also known as Orange Shirt Day, was established last year to remember children who died while being forced to attend residential schools, as well as those who survived and their families. 

The commemorations Friday were the culmination of a week-long effort by many city institutions to revisit the horrors of the school system and its consequences, through an outpouring of music, dance and historical displays across the city.

Sisters reflect on the past while looking to the future

For Tebwaywin Miskokomon, who came to Friday’s gathering at Wortley Green with her sister Tahlanna to dance before the crowd in jingle dresses, the day presented an opportunity to reflect on the past, while looking to the future. 

From left to right, sisters Tahlanna and Tebwaywin Miskokomon are dressed in traditional jingle dresses at the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation ceremonies in London, Ont. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

“Being able to be here today to dance and be our true, authentic selves as Ojibway people, it brings a lot of strength to me, being able to stand strong for my grandparents.”

“My great grandfather got hit in the eye for, I don’t know exactly what it was for, probably for speaking his language or something. He was permanently blind for the rest of his life and I’ve seen him growing up have an eye patch over his eye,” she said. 

“With everything that has happened in the past, it brings a lot of healing to me for my family and my people to be proud of who we are.”

For most Canadians, the tragic legacy of the country’s residential school system is only a recent revelation. The last school of its kind closed in 1996 and until the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was often glossed over and rarely taught in classrooms. 

Today, the legacy of those schools, the intergenerational trauma that it wrought and the way it shaped the treatment of Canada’s Indigenous people has only begun to be discussed, let alone understood.

Across the city, school yards were replete with children wearing orange as schools across the region held their own ceremonies to mark the tragic legacy of residential schools, while London city hall displayed Indigenous flags and treaties with local First Nations in an effort to ensure the mistakes of the past are never repeated again. 

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