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Red Deer Truth and Reconciliation participants pledge to ‘walk in right relations’ on a better path forward

Dozens of people gathered to hear Indigenous speakers Friday in City Hall Park
Children wearing orange T-shirts and ribbon skirts listened to stories about cultural suppression at Canada’s former Indian residential schools at a ceremony honouring Little Souls in Red Deer’s City Hall Park on Friday. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).

A handshake between a residential school survivor and an RCMP officer struck a hopeful note at the end of a ceremony held in Red Deer during National Truth and Reconciliation Day.

Métis Albertan Carrielynn Lund, now a grandmother, recalled being hauled off by strangers to St. Mary’s residential school in Edmonton at the age of four.

“I remember the trip like it was yesterday,” Lund told a crowd of about 200 parents and children, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous at City Hall Park on Friday.

“A man and a woman took me… They told me it would be a nice school and that I would like it there…”

Lund ended up sleeping on a horsehair blanket by the drafty backdoor of St. Mary’s. Every day she had to scrub the hallways — only to hear taunts of “half-breed” and have her bucket kicked over.

Despite suffering these indignities, “I believe, looking back, that this man and woman actually believed that” — that the residential school would be a good experience, said Lund.

She noted leading educators of the day believed Indigenous children were of low intelligence and only by stripping them of their culture, language and connections could they successfully learn to co-exist with Europeans.

Police and truancy officers were ordered to round up children that families tried to prevent from being taken to the abusive and disease-ridden institutions of assimilation. They also had to catch runaways and return them to residential schools.

Lund wondered out loud on Friday what it must be like now for the officers to know they helped facilitate a system that has since been described as genocidal?

How must it feel to know they helped sow “seeds of rage” within people who are now struggling with addictions because of intergenerational trauma?

Lund conceded that this must also be a burden.

By shaking hands with the local RCMP officer on Friday, Lund said she hoped to set a new and more positive path forward.

“I appreciate the service you do…. Let us assume that this is a time you want to walk in right relations with us,” she said to the officer.

The representative of the RCMP agreed it’s time for both parties to set aside “worst assumptions” about each other and build a more trusting and respectful relationship. He said accepting Lund’s gift on behalf of Red Deer RCMP Supt. Holly Glassford “is a great honour.”

In remembrance of thousands of “Little Souls” who never were able to receive a traditional child’s blanket from their Indigenous families, Raye St. Denys, executive director of Shining Mountains Community Living Services, said many local hands came together to help create a commemorative quilt. It was unveiled at Friday’s ceremony.

Among the dignitaries who spoke were Red Deer Mayor Ken Johnston, and Red Deer-area MPs Earl Dreeshen and Blaine Calkins.

As well there were Métis and First Nations elders, including Lyle Keewatin Richards, who helped found the Remembering the Children Society. The group is reclaiming the graveyard at the former Red Deer Industrial School, which once had the worse fatality rate of all residential schools across Canada because of inadequate sewage pipes and under-funding.

Calkins acknowledged much remains to be accomplished on Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation journey but he feels heartened that First Nations and Métis people are now taking back their languages and culture.

“There has never been a time in my life when relations between (Indigenous and Non-Indigenous communities) have been better,” he added.

A handshake between Indigenous and RCMP representatives closed the Little Souls ceremony, which honoured children who never made it home from Canada’s former Indian residential schools. The event was held on National Truth and Reconciliation Day in Red Deer’s City Hall Park on Friday. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).

Lana Michelin

About the Author: Lana Michelin

Lana Michelin has been a reporter for the Red Deer Advocate since moving to the city in 1991.
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