A wave of orange moved through Bradford this weekend.
Dozens of residents, staff, members of council and members of the South Simcoe Police Service marked the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation by wearing orange and attending a flag raising at the Sunshine Meeting Place outside the BWG Leisure Centre on Saturday morning.
Mayor James Leduc opened the ceremony by thanking everyone who could be in attendance, thanking the organizers, the Bradford Farmers’ Market and Rise Up BWG, and noting the importance of the day.
“We memorialize the children who never returned home, the survivors, the families and the communities who continue to feel the impacts of residential schools,” he said before introducing Mi’kmaw elder White Eagle, who described what the day meant to him.
“What we want to do is to let everyone know that every child is important. That is so important to understand that,” he said.
The elder then asked everyone to place their hands over their hearts while he said a prayer to the Creator.
While White Eagle grew up on the shores of Atlantic Canada, he said when it comes down to it, “we’re all the same, and all that matters is that we’re all connected,” before inviting everyone to come together to share and “open our hearts” to each other as “everyone comes with different stories.”
He then performed a smudging ceremony and used a traditional drum to recognize the Indigenous children lost to the residential school system.
The mayor followed by thanking White Eagle and noting about six per cent of the Bradford community identifies as Indigenous, before he read the official proclamation on behalf of the town.
“Orange Shirt Day opens the door to global conversation on all aspects of residential schools, an opportunity to create meaningful discussion about the effects of residential schools and the legacy of intergenerational trauma they left behind ... The town of Bradford proudly raises this flag as an expression of remembrance in honour of residential school survivors and all the lives and communities impacted by the residential school system in Canada,” he said, noting the town stands on the land of Treaty 18, before presenting the proclamation to White Eagle and inviting him to help raise the orange Survivors’ Flag.
Afterward, those in attendance were invited to walk over to the Bradford West Gwillimbury Public Library’s west lawn to take part in a self-guided tour of 24 storyboards installed on the lawn, which tell the story of colonization in Canada and its effects on Indigenous peoples.
Jennifer Bahinski, a member of Rise Up BWG with Ojibwa heritage, said the installation will be up all weekend, which will help residents take the initiative to learn at their own pace about the history of residential schools in Canada.
“The story walk was intended to build awareness in the community of the history of residential schools and also bring an Indigenous perspective of the harder truths of the history of our country and also what affects every Indigenous community member to this day. Residential schools weren’t that far back in history,” she said, adding her grandfather attended a residential school.
This is the second year the installation has been added to the library lawn and Bahinski hopes the response from residents will be as positive as it was last year, especially with the added support from organizers of the farmers’ market.
“I think it’s really important that as much as Indigenous community members like to share that knowledge and our own experience, it’s even more important for others to carry that workload and take the steps on their own to learn and take that initiative,” she said.
The library also added a small display in the windows of the foyer featuring “Kevin’s Story” with the residential school system, an orange shirt with the slogan “Every Child Matters,” and a grid showing all of the 94 calls to action from the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
David di Giovanni, manager of cultural services at the library, said it was important to partner with the Bradford Farmers’ Market and Rise Up BWG to highlight the day.
“For me, I think it’s important that, as a town, we acknowledge the truth. It takes many national days of truth and reconciliation to really share the scope of the hurt and the harm that’s happened. That’s a step towards building a stronger relationship between Indigenous people and Canadians. For me, this is just one small step in a much larger journey towards reconciliation,” he said.
The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, also known as Orange Shirt Day, is intended to educate and remind Canadians about the history of residential schools, and it has been held annually in Canada on Sept. 30 since 2021.
It is estimated about 150,000 Inuit, Métis and First Nations children were forceably sent to residential schools to assimilate them into Canadian society and more than 6,000 Indigenous children died in that system between the first schools opening in the 1830s and the last school closing in 1996.