'Today is about teaching': North Bay college holds National Day for Truth and Reconciliation ceremony

Over 50 Canadore College students and dignitaries attended a ceremony at the college Thursday morning in honour of Canada's first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

College student Lexie Mitchell attended. She is a member of the Algonquin First Nation and is a second-generation residential school survivor. Her grandfather spent most of his childhood at a residential school.

"Today is about teaching what happened. It’s not about blaming. It’s about showing we’re still here," she said. “This is a day to be empowered by your ancestors."

When the remains of the 215 children were found at a former residential school site in Kamloops, B.C., back in March, Mitchell was shaken to the core.

"I had nightmares for weeks. I couldn’t sleep. I heard things I never heard before and walking down hallways I’ve never been in before," she said. “It just shows how strong we are all connected."

The college has recognized Orange Shirt Day for the last five years.

"The road for us for full reconciliation is a journey," said Canadore College President and CEO George Burton. "But it’s a journey that the college is committed to."

There was silence in their air during a special drumming and prayer where those in attendance had a chance to reflect on the lives lost in Canadian residential schools.

“We are strong and we are resilient and we are still powering through everything that has been given to us," Mitchell said.

Nipissing First Nation member George Couchie spoke to the crowd about the scars that were brought upon during the times of residential schools. His father was a residential school survivor. Couchie believes more than 50,000 unmarked graves will be uncovered in the days, weeks, months, and years ahead.

"When I talk to the Indigenous communities, I say 'Let’s not be those stats in the newspaper,'" Couchie said. "Let’s talk about who we are and be proud of who you are also."

Couchie wants non-Indigenous people to take time out of their day to reflect in their own way, either by attending a ceremony or by reading up on what residential schools were.

"We need to change the ripple effect in our community,” said Couchie. “It’s great to see so many Indigenous youths. Hopefully, when we reflect, it’s not just today, it’s every day."

Mitchell said having a national statutory holiday is a good first step to recognizing Indigenous issues that still exist -- like the suicide rate within Indigenous populations and the ongoing need for clean drinking water on reserves.

"My families have been affected more than twice by the suicide epidemic," she said. "That’s too much and I am only 20-years-old."

The college ceremony isn’t the only one taking part in the city.

The City of North Bay will be holding a ceremony Thursday evening with local representatives as well as members of the Indigenous and Métis communities. City Hall will be lit up orange as part of the dedication.