On September 30, the Conestoga community gathered for the college’s fourth annual Truth and Reconciliation event. The session welcomed participants for a conversation to enhance understanding and strengthen the reconciliation process between Canada and Indigenous cultures within a local context.
This year’s event, co-hosted virtually by the college’s Be-Dah-Bin Gamik (Aboriginal Services), Student Engagement and Conestoga Students Inc., focused on the significance of Orange Shirt Day. Recognized across Canada each year on September 30, the day serves as a reminder of the legacy of trauma residential schools have left behind and the opportunities to create meaningful dialogue for reconciliation.
“I want to, first of all, say that on a day like this, it brings many emotions, thoughts and prayers to the events that happened in this country,” said Myeengun Henry, manager of Aboriginal Services. “Today, we need to acknowledge that healing needs to take place and reconciliation is a major component to Canada’s well-being.”
Close to 150,000 Indigenous children were sent to residential schools in Canada between 1883 and 1996, separated from families and stripped of language, culture and tradition to force assimilation. More than 6,000 survivors were compelled to tell their stories during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada from 2008 to 2015, many detailing instances of severe neglect, abuse and sexual assault, and experiences that have left intergenerational impacts on families and communities.
As a keynote presentation, Elder and survivor Lilla Bruyere of the Aamjiwnaang First Nation shared her experience at St. Margaret’s Indian Residential School in Fort Frances, Ontario, where she attended from the ages of 6 to 14. Her profoundly personal journey was recounted to help further understand the effects of residential schools and start a conversation around what the Conestoga community can do to support healing and reconciliation.
“We put a lot of emphasis on Lilla and her story, and we’ve been hearing these stories for a number of years now, so it’s not new to Canada,” said Henry. “Instead of trying to seek these answers out from Indigenous Peoples all the time, what have you learned and what are you going to do about it as a nation of Canada?”
Henry called on the college’s non-Indigenous community to take the next steps together by participating in Be-Dah-Bin Gamik events and activities, having conversations with visiting elders, and advocating for Indigenous representation on student councils.
“We’ve given you our stories, we’ve given you our lives, we’ve given you everything, and now the partnership of this has to come through,” Henry continued. “Let’s start working together to make this country better in honour of the Indigenous Peoples of this land.”
Conestoga’s Be-Dah-Bin Gamik, a Place of New Beginning, provides services and ongoing supports for Indigenous students to assist with a smooth transition to college life. Services include a range of social and cultural events and activities, traditional counselling, and Elders-in-Residence programs.