The grounds at Fernie City Hall were awash with orange on Friday for the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
Hundreds of members of the community gathered to hear remarks from Chief Heidi Gravelle and Councillor Kyle Shottanana of Yaq̓it ʔa·knuqⱡi’it, and Mayor Ange Qualizza of the City of Fernie, and to witness a Flag Raising Ceremony.
Gravelle spoke of the value of seeing young locals wearing orange, and learning about the history of indigenous people in Canada.
“One of the things I truly advocate for is that the truth behind the entirety of the Indigenous people across Turtle Island isn’t watered down,” said Gravelle. “When you fully understand the truth, then you’ll understand who we are.”
“Having that understanding is going to allow you to open your hearts and open your minds and also be a little more kind and understanding.”
The National Day of Truth and Reconciliation was elevated to a statutory holiday across Canada in 2021 upon the discovery of unmarked children’s graves at former residential schools that year – something Gravelle said was important to remember, given there were “over ten thousand human beings that would be a part of us today,” had they not died at the schools.
Gravelle spoke of the beauty of the land, but acknowledged that the Elk Valley was scarred by mining.
“Taking a helicopter over (the mines) is not beautiful. It’s devastated. I’m sure many of you work for mining companies, you live in a mining town. I’m not here to tell you you’re wrong… but I’m here to ask that we start some trans-formative action because we need to heal our land, and until our land is healed you can’t heal as a people.”
Qualizza spoke about institutional memory, noting that she had not been taught about residential schools when she was educated, but that those coming up through school now were learning more.
She acknowledged that Indigenous Canadians of today are residential school survivors, or the descendants of residential school survivors, with the last school closed in 1996.
‘We need to listen to the stories of our elders and survivors, our friends and neighbours,” she said.
The event concluded with the raising of the Yaq̓it ʔa·knuqⱡi’it flag on city hall grounds.
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