BRANTFORD – The Woodland Cultural Centre hosted yet another event full of reconciliation, understanding and sharing in the event titled Moving Forward Together – Survivors Gathering over the weekend of September 29-30.
The gathering brought together residential school survivors, family, friends and allies to the grounds of the centre to participate in virtual tours, survivor filming, a healing walk and activities throughout the two-day experience.
Co-ordinator and chair of the committee for the event, Carlie Myke explained that the focus of the event was to use the space and time for healing for the survivors and their families in two ways.
“On Friday we had a few work shops and some services available on site for survivor supports,” said Myke. “Friday was focused towards survivors as well, so we did have survivors and family of survivors and people who said ‘I’m not a survivor but my mother was, or my grandparents were,’ and they came too. That’s sort of what the day was focused on was the survivors themselves and their support systems of people who are inter-generational survivors who might also benefit from the support.”
These activities and services included a variety of traditional medicines including sweet-grass, cedar, sage, white pine and tobacco to be used by those in attendance as they felt necessary. It also included presentations by Justice Gethin Edwards and Jock Hill, opening remarks by Tom Porter, and entertainment by Cecil Sault and Old Chicago.
But, Myke explained that Saturday had a wider spectrum of visitors and participants.
“Saturday we had a much broader attendance; we had people that were from schools and people that were from Brantford and the non-indigenous community that came to support and join us in the walk,” she said.
The venture was titled a healing walk, as supporters and survivors were to take part in the walk whilst wearing “Every Child Matters” t-shirts which coincide with Orange Shirt Day. This helped to showcase the support, reconciliation and care from both the indigenous and non-indigenous communities to the survivors, as the walk was lead by the Old Mush Singers with survivors behind.
“The main focus was on survivors and to support their healing journey, and give them something for that healing,” she said. “We had the traditional medicines, we had involvement from language and when we did the thanksgiving address on the Saturday it was given in three languages, and that’s the first time that’s ever been done here.”
With helping to heal survivors, this also brought about talk in how the history of the Mohawk Institute will be further preserved.
Elected Council Chief Ava Hill said that she was “very happy” to be able to attend the event, and explained that the Save the Evidence Campaign began as a means of never forgetting what happened within the walls of the Mohawk Institute for over 100 years.
“To build for the future, we have to learn from the past,” said Hill. “It’s so important – our culture, our language and our history and who we are and that we remember.”
This understanding prompted a large contribution from both Elected Council and the City of Brantford.
“The elected council contributed $220,000 to kick off the [Save the Evidence] campaign, and we put a challenge out there for anybody to match it; the federal government, the provincial government, and the municipal government. I’m just happy to say that the first one to match that challenge was the city of Brantford, and they also donated $220,000 as well.”
Councillor Richard Carpenter from the Brantford City Council also apologized on his own behalf aside from the council.
“The residential school was here when I was a kid,” said Carpenter. “I probably rode my bike down that street, not knowing what was happening here.
I’m sorry for what happened, I truly am. I don’t have permission from council to say that on their behalf, I’m saying that on my own.”
Carpenter also recognized that words don’t “mean much” but the ability of the survivors to share their stories and move forward to educate people on what happened is the kind of action that means a lot.
Feedback in regards to the two-day gathering was positive as the concept and focus was considered a step in the right direction. The event proved that the support in maintaining the building and it’s history is just as strong as the support and care for the survivors themselves.