A ceremony to honour the children lost in the Canadian Indian Residential School system and the survivors was held at the Reynolds-Alberta Museum on July 1, 2021.
The ceremony was preceded by a convoy that travelled from Enoch Cree Nation to Wetaskiwin.
The ceremony was attended by hundreds of people coming out in the heat wave to listen to speeches and watch performances by Indigenous dancers and six-time Grammy nominated musical group from Maskwacis, Alta., Northern Cree.
Speakers included Louis Bull Chief Irvin Bull, Montana Cree Nation Chief Leonard Standingontheroad, Samson Cree Nation Chief Vernon Saddleback, MLA Maskwacis-Wetaskiwin Rick Wilson and various others.
Wilson says that after the initial discovery of the 215 children bodies in a mass grave at the Kamloops Residential School, and the additional discoveries at former residential schools since then, as an MLA and Alberta Minister he wanted to do his part to aid in the healing process.
“As Minister of Indigenous Affairs I wanted to take action right away. So I was able to go to some of my other Ministers and we were able to raise eight million dollars to be used as a community research fund,” said Wilson.
“And that’s not me to decide how the communities spend it, I left it totally flexible up to the communities. Some want to use it to do the ground penetrating radar, some might want to do a memorial.”
Samson Cree Nation Chief Vernon Saddleback gave a passionate speech about the importance of the support that Every Child Matters has been getting, and appreciates the efforts from the local communities including Wetaskiwin and the Villages at Pigeon Lake to know the history of Canadian Indian Residential Schools and community efforts towards reconciliation.
“There is one thing that I want to challenge all of you today,” Saddleback said. “We can’t control what happens to us, we can only control how we feel about it today. Our history happened, it is a part of Canadian history and it is appropriate that on Canada Day we talk about that.”
Saddleback says he appreciates the funding from the Alberta Government that will be used to find more answers about what happened to the students from the residential school that was in Ermineskin Cree Nation.
“Our Elders speak of it, and we will find out,” he says that Elders believe there are bodies to be found at the former site of the residential school located in Maskwacis.
Saddleback spoke on his own experience as a student of a residential school and how opening up about his experience, and realizing that he wasn’t alone was empowering.
“Reconciliation won’t happen until the truth comes out, and we are living that truth. And all of us here are going to get through this together.”