Red Deer’s Deputy Mayor Ken Johnston read a proclamation at Barrie Wilson Elementary School on Friday at declares June 11 the day to officially remember children who died at Indian Residential Schools. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).

Children who died in Indian Residential Schools to be remembered in Red Deer on June 11.

Deputy Mayor reads proclamation at Barrie Wilson School

A sorrowful history lesson was brought home to a gym-full of Red Deer elementary students, who were asked to imagine living in an Indian Residential School.

“Close your eyes and imagine you are someplace where they don’t speak your language or practise your culture,” said Deputy Mayor Ken Johnston at Barrie Wilson Elementary School Friday.

“Imagine being separated from your parents for a long time …”

Johnston was at the school to sign a proclamation declaring June 11 is Remember the Children Day in Red Deer.

He believes moving forward requires healing. And healing isn’t possible without reconciling with the past — which why Red Deerians are remembering the 150,000 children, who lived and/or died in Indian Residential Schools in this country, said Johnston.

June 11 is the anniversary of the federal government’s official apology to these students and their descendants, said Johnston.

The United Church, which ran the notorious residential school near Red Deer from 1893-1919 (it once had the highest mortality rate in Canada), has already officially stated it’s sorry for its historic role in oppressing First Nations and Metis people.

“An apology from the heart leads to healing of the heart,” explained Rev. Ross Smillie, of Red Deer’s Sunnybrook United Church, who conducted a prayer of hope at the school co-written by First Nations and Metis people.

But it isn’t enough to apologize once and be done with the past — which is why church members continue to attend memorials, said Randy Patmore, a member of the Gaetz Memorial United Church.

He believes it’s good for very young students to know their country’s history and understand that things have changed for the better. “We need to acknowledge these things occurred and that it was wrong and that it shouldn’t have happened.”

Rhonda Eidem, vice-principal of Barrie Wilson school, sees the proclamation signing as another teaching moment — which is what was intended when the Remembering the Children movement sprang from Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

“We are cognizant of First Nations students in our school, and we make sure they are being recognized.”

Red Deer has a local Remembering the Children Committee, formed in 2011. One of its recent actions was to erect a stone memorial in the Red Deer cemetery to the children who died at the Indian Residential School.

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