'It's time to wake up': Residential school survivor speaks to crowd at Lethbridge gathering

Elaine Creighton Fox, also known as Yellow Bird Woman, spent six years at St. Mary's residential school near Cardston.

That school has since burned down, but for Creighton Fox, the pain and confusion she felt when she was taken from her home lives on.

"They told them that if me and my older sister Doreen didn't go to that school, they were going to take my mom and dad to jail," said Creighton, who spoke to CTV News alongside five of her eight grandchildren.

"I remember growing up on the reserve and the fields where the grass was just flowing and I was [my grandson's] age and I was taken away from that. No explanations."

Roughly 100 people gathered in Galt Gardens in Lethbridge to commemorate Canada's first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

The first residential school in Cardston opened in 1889 and was later replaced by St. Mary's in 1926.

By the mid 1930s, the building was already overcrowded with children who had been forcibly taken from their families.

The conversation around Canada's dark and tragic history has been front and centre since the discovery of 215 unmarked graves on the grounds of a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.

Creighton Fox says since then, great strides have been made in opening up the conversation and recognizing Canada's brutal history, but more work still needs to be done.

"I think that really woke up this sleeping giant that people don't really want to acknowledge," she said.

"It's time to wake up. It's time to get our rightful place back in society. I have thousands of years of root connections to these lands. Creator put me here, put all of us here. So let's start healing together."

After going through the tribulations and trauma of being forced into the residential school system, Creighton Fox said she was able to rise above with the help of her community and prayer.

"It's taken me a long road of recovery. Big time healing for me is connections. Reconnections with self, community and my elders,"she said.

"I always go back to the reserve when I'm going through times of trials."

After earning a management degree with a major in human resources from the University of Lethbridge, Creighton Fox is now the executive director of Sik-Ooh-Kotoki Friendship Society.

She is focused on Indigenous health and has been working with the government since finishing her degree.

"I know the issues my brothers and sisters face in the streets here and the key to that is reconnection to our culture. Culture is healing," said Creighton Fox.

"The highest learning which my elders taught me is my Blackfoot language and my culture. That is what has lead me to my road to recovery, and I'm still in recovery. I'm only human."

Piikani Nation member Margaret Potts said she has been encouraged to see indigenous issues and the nation's brutal past come to light, but there are still some Albertans who need to be better allies.

"A lot of people are still needing to be educated. There's a lot of reconciliation that still needs to be done,"

"The only way that is going to happen is if people let us tell our truths and they have some empathy and compassion to what has happened in the past."

In total, more than 800 First Nations children died at residential schools in Alberta.

During a period of over 150 years, more than 150,000 children were forced into residential schools in Canada.

If you are a former residential school student in distress, or have been affected by the residential school system and need help, you can contact the 24-hour Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419

Additional mental-health support and resources for Indigenous people are available here.

(With files from CTVNews.ca)