Aamjiwnaang marks Truth and Reconciliation Day

Orange shirts decorated by students at Great Lakes Secondary School in Sarnia. (File photo from the GLSS facebook page)

Aamjiwnaang First Nation has several things planned to mark National Truth and Reconciliation Day this week.

Chief Chris Plain said since September 30th is a holiday for them, the First Nation will have interactive booths set up at Maawn Doosh Gumig Community Centre on September 29 beginning at 4 p.m.

“We’ll teach people how to say ‘they’re grieving’ in the language, our eagle staff will be there with some teachings around that, we have drumming and dancing exhibitions, and obviously some teachings around the residential schools for those who are still in those learnings stages of that, and we’re going to have some food,” said Plain.

Chief Plain said they’ve acknowledged Orange Shirt Day for a number of years by distributing t-shirts, but this year 100 “Every Child Matters” signs will be handed out as well.

“We want to be able to share the message with our young people about resiliency. The fact that we’ve overcome a lot of barriers and obstacles put in our way, but yet we’re still here. Our language is revitalizing, our cultures, and our practices, and our customs are coming back to us, and so we want to make sure that the survivors that are still with us are proud that our young people have thrived over time.”

Plaques at Aamjiwnaang include the names of over 170 residential school survivors.

But, Chief Plain said they’re recognizing now that not all children were returned.

“We have a short list in the community. We’re not sure if we have all of the names of those who haven’t returned, but we’d like to make sure that we honour them as well.”

Aamjiwnaang is also sending a limited number of residents, due to COVID-19 restrictions, on a bus to Ottawa to participate in activities on September 30th.

“They’re going to have a larger march and similar activities to what we’re having here, but probably on a grander scale with more nations involved,” said Chief Plain. “So we had a draw for those people who wanted to go.”

Plain said he’s encouraged by the amount of people who’ve reached out to him to become more educated on residential schools, since the remains of 215 children were discovered in unmarked graves at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia in May.

“We’re getting stronger as a community and we’re on that healing path together, and some are a little bit further along than others of course, but we want to make sure that we, for the sake of the survivors, show them that we’ve overcome a lot of this stuff and we are a resilient community.”

The Sarnia Native Friendship Centre is hosting an Every Child Matters March on Thursday.

It will begin at City Hall at 10 a.m. and end at the Centennial Park waterfront.

Aamjiwnaang residents feeling grief or anguish are encouraged to reach out to the First Nation’s health centre for support, or call the Indian Residential School Survivors and Family crisis line at 1-866-925-4419.