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Aamjiwnaang, city marking Truth and Reconciliation Day

Tara Jeffrey Chris Plain says he’s pleased to see so many people in the community trying to learn more about residential schools, survivors and their families.
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A monument to residential school survivors at the Aamjiwnaang First Nation became a focal point this summer after the unmarked graves of 215 children were found at a former B.C. residential school. Children’s shoes and teddy bears were also left as a memorial at the Sarnia City Hall fountain. Troy Shantz

Tara Jeffrey

Chris Plain says he’s pleased to see so many people in the community trying to learn more about residential schools, survivors and their families.

Chief Chris Plain

“We’ve had a lot of folks coming to our monument to pay their respects,” said the Aamjiwnaang First Nation Chief. “Even knocking on the door at the band office looking for someone to talk to, to learn more information — because they knew little or nothing at all about residential schools.

“We’re doing a lot of outreach and education as well, ahead of National Truth and Reconciliation Day.”

Sept. 30, known in recent years as Orange Shirt Day to honour the tragic legacy of residential schools in Canada, was declared a federal statutory holiday earlier this summer, though the province said last week National Truth and Reconciliation Day won’t be recognized as a holiday in Ontario.

But Aamjiwnaang is recognizing Sept. 30 as a holiday, Plain said.

An event the previous day at the Maawn Doosh Gumig Community Centre pavilion will feature booths, games, drumming, dancing and prayer.

The band has also organized a bus trip for members to attend the Sept. 30 “Remember Me: A National Day of Remembrance” event in Ottawa.

Meanwhile, the Sarnia Native Friendship Centre is hosting an Every Child Matters March, beginning at City Hall at 10 a.m. and ending at the Centennial Park waterfront.

Sarnia is flying the ‘Every Child Matters’ flag from the community flagpole, and has approved a crosswalk to recognize victims of residential schools.

At Bluewater Health, traditional drumming will play over the PA system in the morning and evening, as part of the hospital's effort strengthening Indigenous relationships.

An Indigenous Community Flag Plaza unveiled earlier this year at Bayshore Park by the United Nations Declaration of Right of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) Committee, features flags on display from Aamjiwnaang, Kettle & Stony Point and Walpole Island (Bkejwanong) First Nations.

“For years, we weren’t talking about this,” said Plain, noting the many Aamjiwnaang children sent to residential schools, including seven buried at Shingwauk Indian Residential School in Sault Ste. Marie.

“We have a long history of intergenerational trauma, and we still have a lot of people struggling. But I’m very proud of the support programs our community has in place.

“We’re still here, and we’re still thriving,” Plain said, noting the revitalization of Indigenous language and culture.

“For myself, I can say my greeting and name in my language, where, 15 years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to do that.

“We are a community of resiliency. We learn and share from each other and that goes a long way.”

Anyone in need of supports can contact the Aamjiwnaang Health Centre, or, call the Indian Residential School Survivors and Family Crisis line at 1-866-925-4419

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