'These stories are real': Edmonton marks first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

Edmontonians rallied, planted trees, and reflected as they observed Canada’s first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

Flags were lowered at the legislature to half-mast and a new flag for truth and reconciliation was unveiled. As well, a new tree was planted on the grounds to represent growth, stability, renewal and life.

Indigenous groups say a reconciliation garden is set to be planted at the same site.

Hundreds of plants were given away at Hawrelak Park by Edmonton’s Root for Trees initiative to plant wildflowers or trees as an act of reconciliation.

“I’m so grateful and honoured that Edmontonians are coming out to support Root for Trees, and to support Indigenous communities and the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation,” said Ashlyn Renner with Root for Trees. “This is the first time we’re doing something like this with Root for Trees, and I’m so happy that it turned out so well.”

For the past 75 days, gatherings at three unmarked gravesites in the Edmonton area hosted events.

“A lot of healing, telling stories, reconnecting to tradition and culture,” Lorelei Mullings said. “My ancestors, those unmarked graves, I think about them today. I’m their voice.”

Runners and walkers made their way from Kinsmen to Hawrelak Park in the Orange Shirt Day Run. Participants raised funds for the Indian Residential School Survivors Society.

A ceremony at Enoch Cree First Nation commemorated the lives lost at all residential schools and honoured those buried at its unmarked gravesite.

“We really wanted to bring out the awareness and utilize this day for the intent and purpose of those individuals who attended residential schools and Indian hospitals as well,” Andrea Jenkins said.

For Jenkins, Sept. 30 represents a day of remembrance and learning.

“I don’t want to say celebrate. This isn’t really a day to celebrate,” Jenkins said. “Canada has a very dark history with what has happened to Indigenous people.

“So today is about honouring. Being a daughter and granddaughter of residential school survivors and knowing of the atrocious things that have been done to Indigenous people, it’s really important that this day is fully recognized.”

Ottawa set Sept. 30 as a day to reflect on the legacy of residential schools. The federal government passed legislation in June allowing federal employees and people working in federally regulated workplaces, like banks, the day off.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) put forward creating a statutory holiday to help public commemoration and awareness of the damaging and intergenerational effects the residential school system had and continues to have as one of its 94 calls to action.

While the federal holiday was observed, it was left to individual provinces and territories to decide whether it would be an official statutory holiday.

Many in Alberta criticized the province for not recognizing the holiday, including the Assembly of First Nations Alberta regional chief.

“If you find that you have the day off,” Jenkins said, “Utilize it to learn more. Ask questions.

“There are a lot of things online, tools that you can access,” she added. “A lot of people say these things (like residential schools or the Sixties Scoop) were never done. We have to start believing. These things are real. These stories are real. These incidents are real.”