Harry Lafond of the Office of the Treaty Commissioner and platform guests led the crowd in a refrain of “We Are all Treaty People” during a program at Victoria Park on National Aboriginal Day June 21 in Saskatoon. The celebration began with a Walk for Reconciliation involving thousands of participants of every age and background. (Photo by Kiply Yaworski)
SASKATOON — In the midst of a month of reconciliation activities in the city of Saskatoon, the National Aboriginal Day celebration June 21 at Victoria Park stood out, with thousands participating in a “Rock Your Roots” Walk for Reconciliation.
In an initiative known as Reconciliation Saskatoon, the City of Saskatoon, the Office of the Treaty Commissioner (OTC), the Saskatoon Tribal Council (STC), and the Central Urban Métis Federation Inc. (CUMFI) — along with 54 other supporting organizations — have been working to further the conversation about truth and reconciliation, in response to the Calls to Action from the national Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
The 58 organizations worked together to launch and highlight a series of activities in June that have included the raising of the reconciliation flag at city hall June 15, and the second annual “Rock Your Roots” Walk for Reconciliation on National Aboriginal Day.
Elders, veterans, and residential school survivors were joined by school children, representatives of community and religious organizations, families, Canadians of every background and ethnicity, and newcomers to the community in the walk down 19th Street and Spadina Crescent, creating a colourful parade of flags, yellow reconciliation bandanas and T-shirts.
The reconciliation walk concluded at Victoria Park, where a program of prayer, drumming, speakers and entertainment continued into the afternoon.
STC Vice Chief Mark Arcand acknowledged the residential school survivors present at the event, and asked those present to let them know they are loved -something they did not hear or experience in residential school, he said.
CUMFI president Shirley Isbister, in turn, acknowledged all descendants of residential school survivors, and noted the importance of the children and youth participating in the events of the day. “For me, it is really, really important to have our children here,” she said, pointing to the importance of learning respect for each other and for all cultures.
Led by Harry Lafond of the Office of the Treaty Commissioner, the crowd stood with raised arms, calling out: “We are all treaty people, walking together in reconciliation.”
Lafond also encouraged those in attendance to “take the risk and reach out to someone you don’t know,” stressing the diversity of the community. “We need to celebrate that diversity. Every encounter is an enrichment to you and to your identity.”
Other speakers included MP Sheri Benson, who spoke about a private member’s bill calling for National Aboriginal Day to be a statutory holiday in Canada, one of the TRC’s recommendations.
MLA Eric Olauson thanked organizers and participants for the event and spoke about provincial responses to the TRC Calls to Action, including mandatory treaty education now being offered all students, from kindergarten to Grade 12.
Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark acknowledged that the gathering was being held on Treaty 6 territory and the traditional homeland of the Métis¬ “here on the banks of the South Saskatchewan that binds this whole community together.”
Reconciliation is a matter of head, heart and hands, Clark said. “It starts in our heads when we learn about residential schools and the pass system and those things that have not been about true treaty relationships and it moves into our hearts when we open our hearts and look inside ourselves and say, ‘Maybe I need to think differently,’ ” he described. “Then it moves into our hands to take action.”
Standing with Isbister, the mayor also announced a plan to place a large sculpture in Victoria Park entitled “Where Our Paths Cross,” in an area of the park that will be known as Reconciliation Circle.
Other speakers included Police Chief Clive Weighill, Fire Chief Morgan Hackl, Judge David Arnot of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission, newly elected president of the Métis Nation of Saskatchewan Rebecca Major, Saskatoon Indian and Métis Friendship Centre executive director Gaylene Poulin.
After lunch was served to the crowd, the entertainment and presentations continued, along with a variety of children’s activities near several tipis set up in the riverside park.