SASKATOON — To mark the end of a Year of Reconciliation declared by Saskatoon City Council, a ceremonial flag-raising was held June 1 in front of City Hall. The event began with a pipe ceremony and continental breakfast before the speakers shared words and the flag was raised.
“Reconciliation means the restoration of friendly relations,” said Saskatoon Tribal Council chief Felix Thomas in his opening remarks. “And we know that the treaties, the gifts and obligations, were made in peace and friendship. These responsibilities and obligations are on all of us.”
The program opened with three anthems: O Canada sung in Dakota by Shae Eagle, the Métis national anthem sung by Krystle Pederson, and the Treaty 6 Honour Song sung by the Wild Horse Drum Group.
Mayor Don Atchison brought greetings on behalf of the city, reflecting on his own journey toward reconciliation. He recalled the relatively recent installations of Treaty 6 and Métis flags which now fly at City Hall, and how important it is to recognize the legacy of the residential schools.
Senator Ted Quewezance brought greetings from the FSIN, reflecting on his own experience in the residential schools. “From the perspective of a survivor, forgiveness is one of the hardest things to do,” said Quewezance, adding that it took him about seven years of hard work. “All the terrible things they did to us as little boys and little girls — and sometimes that little boy comes out, but as an individual, and a family, we have to move forward. The most important things in our family and our communities are our culture, our traditions, and our customs.”
He spoke about the painful process of colonization, challenging every person to decolonize themselves despite the pain, all the way to the governmental level.
“We have to reach out — and as a survivor I’m reaching out to everyone — because reconciliation is needed: in our country, in our province, in our cities, in our communities,” said Quewezance. “Without reconciliation it’s not Canada. We are treaty people — and we reached out to the settlers, and today the benefits are there for all Canadians.”
CUMFI president Shirley Isbister noted that the process of preparing for this day inspired her, as people came forward with their commitments and organized the events.
“The (Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s) Calls to Action are individual; we each have to find how we’re going to survive day by day and welcome people into that circle of ours,” said Isbister. “To me, reconciliation is about diversity. Saskatoon is so rich in diversity and it’s up to us to mine that commodity, and we need to all step up to the plate and be accepting.”
“Reconciliation happens at many levels: it can happen at an organizational level, but most importantly it has to happen at a personal level,” said Leanne Bellegarde, bringing greetings from PotashCorp, one of the sponsors.
Harry Lafond brought greetings from the Office of the Treaty Commissioner. “It can be anything that we want it to be, so every person can join in,” said Lafond. “There will be a time when our grandchildren and great-grandchildren can say, ‘Our grandparents did the right thing, they recognized the value of each other,’ and we can live together in harmony.”
Residential school survivor Eugene Arcand recounted the journey of the past four years, noting that when the Truth and Reconciliation Commission came to Saskatoon, the city was not ready, adding that there has been much progress in only a few years. He then instructed everyone to shake hands with someone they didn’t know, as part of living the TRC Calls to Action.
“You’re all smiling now, that’s just a small indication of how fun it can be to follow the Calls to Action, and I challenge you to take up that challenge every day,” said Arcand, further challenging everyone to commit to reading, sharing, and bringing to life the 94 Calls to Action in the 20-page document put out by the TRC. “It’s more than shaking hands, it’s changing behaviour so that attitudes change.”
Arcand invited everyone to get involved with upcoming activities on reconciliation, bringing children and grandchildren out to learn. As elder Howard Walker and his brother-in-law A.J. Felix spoke, the Reconciliation flag was passed through the crowd so that each person could touch it as a sign of their commitment to reconciliation, before indigenous veteran Edward Baldhead raised the flag in front of City Hall during an honour song.
“When the Crown made those treaty promises 140 years ago, they said, ‘What I offer you I put on top of what you already have.’ What we already have — not had, have. One of those promises was to live in peace and harmony. Let us make Canada the beautiful place that it is, as strong as it is — this is one of the few places that is left on earth that people are not killing each other because of differences,” noted Walker.
Felix pointed out that reconciliation means doing things differently, doing them together, not taking away land, rights, culture, language, religion, and children, but instead respecting indigenous practice and knowledge.