Council recognizes victims of residential schools

By Kirk Winter

The Kawartha Lakes council chamber took on a decidedly somber tone as councillors, the mayor, CAO and clerk all wore orange shirts to recognize the first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation that occurs Sept. 30.

Mayor Letham shared with council that this day has been set aside to remember children taken against their will and those who did not come home from one of the many residential schools that existed across Canada until the last closed in 1996.

Residential schools were run by both the federal government and various religious orders with the stated intent of educating the Indigenous people. Many children died while attending these schools from disease, neglect and abuse, and their bodies were typically not returned to friends and family.

“Every child matters,” Letham said, “and a day like this is an affirmation that everyone around us matters.”

Letham read a survivor’s account that explained the significance of the orange shirts. That account also expressed the hopelessness felt by Indigenous children hundreds of miles away from friends and family and subjected almost on a daily basis to physical, mental and sexual abuse.

The individual quoted felt “like no one cared” and that “her feelings did not matter.”

Letham hoped that recognition of what happened could cause peoples from all backgrounds “to walk a new path together.”

An orange flag in front of city hall will remain lowered until Sept. 30. City Hall will also be bathed in orange light until the day of recognition, to remind people of what happened.

Letham singled out the local Bobcaygeon Truth and Reconciliation Committee for their assistance in helping recognize this day.

Earlier in the day, council gathered on the eastern steps of City Hall to observe the ‘215+ Taken’ painted stones art installation by the Truth and Reconciliation Community (TRC) Bobcaygeon group. The stones were painted by more than 50 members of the community including children to represent the Indigenous children whose bodies were found buried next to the Kamloops Indian Residential School. Members of the group offered reflections on the stones, and how the community is responding to take steps toward reconciliation. Watch the video on YouTube.

Letham and several councillors were in attendance were wearing t-shirts created by Freddy Taylor, Curve Lake First Nation artist in residence and residential school survivor. Everyone is welcome to visit and view the stones at City Hall until the morning of September 30 when they will be returned to Bobcaygeon for ceremonies.

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