By Cal Braid
Westwind Weekly News
The Town of Raymond hosted a Truth and Reconciliation Day ceremony at the Town office on Sept. 30. The ceremonial flag flew in the front lot as Sheldon Day Chief addressed a gathering of community and council members.
Day Chief said, “Today I’ve pondered on some of the things I’ve said over the last few days. I’ve been teaching staff and students about the history of Canada and our relationship with them. Truth and Reconciliation is not a celebration for us, it’s a time to educate our neighbour. I say that wholeheartedly because I don’t see any time in the future that one of us are going to leave or die off. We have to learn how to get along, and the sooner the better, because our children see this society that to me right now is divided on so many levels. It’s our children that are going to deal with those consequences. It’s up to us as adults in the community, as parents and as grandparents, to teach our children what is right and what is wrong and what the history truly is about Canada and the First Nations.”
He explained that his grandfather, White Feathers, told him that much prejudice exists due to the way people were raised and taught about who the First Nations people are.
“It still continues today. We are not seen as human beings, and that’s the truth of it. When immigrants come into this country, one of the first things they are taught is watch for the Indian. The Indian has a special status, it’s like a brain washing for the people that have come to our land.”
Day Chief referred to the Indian Act that Sir John A. MacDonald implemented in 1876 and the Blackfoot Treaty of 1877, that “today still affects us in so many ways.”
“Not until the mid 1960s did we find out that we were able to vote. We’re still not considered Canadian citizens which to me is alright, because we were a nation within a nation; they had treaties with an international body. A lot of people say that’s a historic treaty. Maybe, but it’s still in full effect today and that’s what gives the legitimacy of Canada and Canadians to reside in our territories. That’s why in the town of Raymond and Cardston where I’ve gone into the schools, they feel obliged to say, “We are in the ancestral territories of the Blackfoot. That’s very significant, because the knowledge is out there that you’re on our territories.”
“Today is a somber day for a lot of us. I am a residential school survivor. I went through a lot, and I’ve seen a lot. My experience in a boarding school was not even half of what my parents went through in their boarding school. Today we’re still seeing people fighting for their story to be told, like the 1960’s schools. A lot of these kids were taken into the boarding school, and they didn’t even know they had a history here or a family. The residential school era may be over, but our children are coming out of the system not knowing who they are or what their culture is. They don’t even speak the language. I know that because I’m the president of Sweetgrass Youth Alliance, and they don’t even know who they are.”
“Twice over I’ve lost everything, and it’s because I couldn’t deal with my demons when I was younger. Those traumas (last a) lifetime. I’m a lot better today, but I still deal with some of that horror that I went through and witnessed in boarding school. I lost a lot of things in my time dealing with my issues. A lot of people will say, ‘Well get over it.’ Okay, then get over the fact that this is our land. How did Canada come to say they own our land? What gives you the privilege to be living on our land? Let’s all get over it.”
“Truth and Reconciliation Day is not a celebration for us, and it shouldn’t be a celebration for anyone. Today is the time to learn about who we are as people of this land. It’s our history. When we signed that treaty (it became) our history,” he said, emphasizing ‘our’ as us and them—both of ours.
“As an individual I have forgiven a lot of things, but that doesn’t mean I forgot. I take this opportunity in some ways to tell our stories. There are so many more that were younger than I was, and I had my hands strapped because I was protecting them. Little kids that couldn’t stand up for themselves that were abused by not only the supervisors or the staff, but my own people (were also) abusing our own.”
“It starts with an open mind to listen and to learn. Truth is real; it’s there. It may not be the best thing that you want to find out about your country, but it’s the truth. How do we get back to reconciliation if we ever had one? It’s to accept the truth.”
“Today is maybe a start for Raymond, a time that we move together as people, because we are people. It doesn’t matter what colour it is. We all bleed red, we need the oxygen, we need food, we need water, we need each other.”