'Hard not to express hurt'; Thousands attend Turtle Island Healing Walk in London, Ont

Looking South from the corner of Richmond and Oxford Streets in London, Ont. all you could see was a wave of Orange shirts.

The thousands of participants in the Turtle Island Healing Walk Thursday were still flowing out of Victoria Park as the leaders of the event stopped to perform a song and dance in the middle of one of the city's busiest intersections.

On a Canada Day unlike any other, members of area first nation communities along with allies met in downtown London for speeches, songs, dance and moments of silence and reflection.

The event was held to honour Indigenous lives lost to residential school systems.

"It's extremely hard for me to approach this from a place of healing because of the hurts that were done and the pain that was inflicted," says Chief Jason Henry of Kettle and Stony Point First Nation who addressed the crowd from the stage at Victoria Park.

Chief Jason Henry of Kettle & Stony Point First Nation speaks to crowd, July 1, 2021 (Brent Lale/CTV News)

"That pain, runs through all of our veins. We all feel it, we all see it, we all suffer it , and it manifests in many ways. It's hard not to express anger, and it's hard not to express hurt, and it's hard not to express frustration".

Henry got deep when talking about Indigenous children and what they see everyday in their communities and in their homes.

"Every time they walk down the street, and they see a junkie laying on the road with a needle in their arm, that's a priest, squeezing that syringe," says Henry.

"Every time they see their uncle or their grandpa having a drink, trying to numb that pain, a pain from residential schools...that's a priest, tipping that bottle up. Every time their mom, dad, or their neighbor engages in violence against them, that was taught to us, not by the beautiful sound of this drum, not by the way our people dance with pride, the way we braid our hair. That violence that they see was taught to them in the school system that was bought and paid for by the resources that were taken from the land that was stolen from the the Anishinaabe Indigenous people of Canada."

Bird's-eye view of crowd in London, Ont. (Aries Digital Media)

Henry handed the microphone to his 14-year-old daughter Banaise-kwe Henry.

She spoke about so many of her family members who were residential school survivors and how their freedoms and choices were taken from them when they arrived at school.

"All the pain that they carried, I'm not going to let that hold me back," says Banaise-Kwe.

"I'm going to pick up my culture, I'm going to pick up my language, and I'm going to be proud about it. I'm not going to get beaten for it. My hair is not going to be cut today, it's not going to be cut tomorrow. It'll be my choice."

Organizers were blown away by the amount of of people who showed up to take part.

"It's heartwarming, it's absolutely beautiful," says Elyssa Rose, a co-organizer.

"It shows that there are people who are standing with us this morning. We were originally hoping for to 215 but the numbers kept going up so this is wonderful".

As the walk was about to begin, co-organizer Kristina Zakharyan said the goal was for 'London to pause today and reflect in solidarity with Indigenous people'.

"We all as allies, we all say 'thank you' to other allies for showing up in person," says Zakharyan.

City of London officials say the Canadian flag at City Hall will be flying at half mast to 'acknowledge the deep impacts this continues to have on Indigenous people.'

Today, the Canadian flag at City Hall will be flying at half mast to honour the lives lost through the Residential School system, and to acknowledge the deep impacts this continues to have on Indigenous people. https://t.co/bdRGKC8X6z

— City of London (@CityofLdnOnt) July 1, 2021

"These are unprecedented times, and this is a Canada Day unlike any other," Ed Holder, London's mayor tweeted.

"It’s not on account of a pandemic, rather it’s because of a national reckoning Canadians can no longer avoid."