The Municipality of West Nipissing, mayor and council members, were joined by Nickel Belt MP Marc Serré, Timiskaming-Cochrane MPP John Vanthof, Gimaa (Chief) Scott McLeod of Nipissing First Nation and Coun. Paige Wajashk-Restoule of Dokis First Nation, along with about 20 members of the public, to commemorate the first official National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in West Nipissing. The event, held on Wednesday, Sept. 29 at Minnehaha Bay in Sturgeon Falls, was both a solemn occasion and a hopeful sign of local reconciliation as both Indigenous and non-Indigenous representatives took the time to share thoughts and reflections on the importance of this day. An “Every Child Matters” flag was raised in acknowledgement of the lives lost in the genocide perpetrated by the Canadian government and its institutions against Indigenous people.
WN Coun. Yvon Duhaime and Mayor Joanne Savage opened with a land acknowledgement in both English and French, noting we are living on the traditional territories of the Nipissing, Temagami and Dokis peoples. Gimaa Scott McLeod then addressed the crowd, saying he was pleased to join friends and neighbours on the occasion for a number of reasons. He noted that on the morning the news hit that the bodies of 215 children were found in Kamloops, the aftermath and continuation of disturbing discoveries, “Our communities have been suffering the legacy… I deal with it on a daily basis, everything from social issues to addictions to family issues – all because of a system that created residential schools. The only intent was to destroy our communities, and I don’t know any other way to say that. I am hopeful after several months… Finally the entire country stood still at the news of those children, began to listen and pay attention to what Indigenous people have been saying. It took the voice of a child that was buried in the ground to get everyone to listen. Unfortunate as that is, it was a bit of a blessing.”
Gimaa McLeod became impressed over the ensuing months with the level of concern expressed by non-Indigenous people. “We’re very grateful for the space that you’ve created for our communities to heal… Acknowledging the mistakes made in the past, it allows our communities to heal. Thank you for coming to support this.”
Dokis Council member Paige Wajashk-Restoule also spoke to the opening of inter-generational wounds, noting that these deaths and abuses were not in the distant past, but in living memory. “Many struggle with the lifelong impacts. We encourage all to take action towards reconciliation, take time to learn about the Indigenous people of Canada, learn about your neighbours, learn to properly acknowledge the land you live on… We don’t blame anyone for not knowing our history and cultural ways. The systems were created to erase us for a reason… Be open to new education and changing the system for future generations. Indigenous people are strong and resilient. We are all Treaty people. This nation must never forget what it once did to its most vulnerable people.”