Orange Shirt Day arrives in WC

By Jake Davies - West Carleton Online

CARP – West Carleton’s first National Truth and Reconciliation Ceremony attracted more than 130 people for an emotional event shining the light on the challenges Indigenous people still face as residential school survivors.

It was a ceremony marking a difficult subject and a black mark on Canadian history, honouring the children who never returned home as well as survivors of residential schools as well as their families and communities, but as guest speaker MPP Karen McCrimmon said, “there can be know reconciliation without acknowledgement.”

The 90-minute ceremony featured singing, dancing and conversation. The event was hosted by Makatew Workshops’ Marc Forgette, a member of the Apitipi Anicinapek Nation, on the grounds of his business on Falldown Lane in Carp.

Dokis First Nation member John Henri Commanda served as the traditional knowledge keeper as well as the emcee of the event. Commanda himself was a victim of the Sixties Scoop when he was taken from his parents at 18 months old and given to a Caucasian family to be raised.

A woman performs a hoop dance.
Kitigan Zibi First Nation hoop dancer Mariah Miigwans performs during the ceremony. Photo by Jake Davies

“I’m honoured to be here,” Commanda said. “I want to thank everyone who made this day possible. I’m so happy to see us becoming a circle.”

Brad Picody sang and drummed for the audience followed by Kitigan Zibi First Nation hoop dancer Mariah Miigwans who performed what she referred to as a healing dance. But first Miigwans shared a story of how the survivors she knows continue to be challenged by the emotional impact of surviving Canada’s residential schools.

“As a young woman I work hard trying to teach our young ones, what this truly means,” she said. “It’s an honour to be here with Marc and most importantly all of you. Thank you for being here because it starts with you and that understanding.”

All three West Carleton politicians Coun. Clarke Kelly, MP Jenna Sudds and McCrimmon also spoke at the event.

Commanda would sprinkle stories of his own experience between the guest speakers and other special guests.

He spoke of the experience his family members have gone through as a direct result of the impact from residential schools and the Sixties Scoop.

“A spirit name is something we’re given at a very young age to help guide us through Mother Earth,” Commanda said. “I didn’t get mine until I was 44. I was forbidden to have one. They stripped you of your Indian status. We must recognize how the families were separated.”

And from 44 on, Commanda was known as Wise Wolf. He said reconciliation would be a painful and uncomfortable process beginning with acknowledgement of the misdeeds of Canadian Catholic history.

“If you’re feeling comfortable about the reconciliation process, you’re not doing it right,” Commanda said. “Reconciliation starts here, with me. Those broken ties continue. We are bridge builders, and we will be the ones that bring both cultures together.”

Following the official ceremony, Forgette and Commanda unveiled a permanent bench by the tipi and ornamental fire pit with the text ‘Every Child Matters,’ inscribed on it. The bench is part of a public space, Makatew Workshops offers to anyone who wants to take a break.

People pose behind a bench.
From left, Marc Forgette, Coun. Clarke Kelly, MPP Karen McCrimmon, John Henri Commanda and MP Jenna Sudds pose behind a bench commemorating the event and installed at Makatew Workshops. Photo by Jake Davies

Today (Oct. 2) Forgette spoke with West Carleton Online about West Carleton’s first National Truth and Reconciliation Ceremony, and he felt it went pretty well.

“I think it did,” Forgette said. “It was the first one and the first time I ever organized anything like this for the community. I didn’t know what to expect.”

And nerves were up right up to the official 10 a.m. start time. Forgette said at 9:45 a.m. the grounds, where he installed two large white tents for guest sand speakers, was pretty quiet. But right at 10 a.m. the seats filled up and the community showed up.

“We did it for the community and the community came out,” Forgette said of the roughly 130 people who attended the ceremony. “Not a bad number for a beautiful Saturday. We just wanted to facilitate this and bring it to the community. Now we have a baseline for next year. We can only move forward.”

Forgette said the crowd really seemed engaged with what was going on during the ceremony.

“I think they were grateful to be there,” he said.

Forgette said the bench installed at his nearby outdoor rest area will help mark the first of what Forgette hopes will be many more Orange Shirt Day ceremonies.

“We thought it would be a great addition,” he said. “When I ran out of money getting it made, I went to Greg (LeBlanc) and he delivered. And now people can come and enjoy this space.”

Having the chance to look back at the event, stepping away as organizer, Forgette said the ceremony was filled with emotion.

“I’ll tell you it was extremely emotional for me,” he said. “The day in general, we all know someone who was a survivor and what they went through and how that impacted their lives. But also, the overwhelming feeling of seeing all those people in those seats who showed they cared. All the hard work we put in since February and it paid off. The community cared. That’s priceless.”

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