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Kanehsatake unites for Orange Shirt Day

Courtesy Jadyn Lauder

In a community where there is strength in numbers, Kanehsata’kehró:non know resilience and compassion are at their strongest when all members come together as one.

With the inaugural National Day for Truth and Reconciliation prioritizing raising awareness about the legacy of residential schools, Kanehsatake is concentrating on ensuring September 30 is a commemorative day rooted in communal support.

“We are a community that can be very divided at times, but if we can all come together today with this one goal, we will all be achieving it together,” said Jadyn Lauder, who is the Social and Community Service lead for the Kanesatake Health Center (KHC), and one of the organizers behind the Orange Shirt Day six-kilometre walk put together by the local health center.

“Today is about making our voices heard, making our voices loud and reminding people that this isn’t just about a one-day thing – we need to continue this throughout the year.”

As community members slowly gathered at the departing point outside Ratihén:te High School on Thursday, a joint fundraiser for the local Kanien’kéha language program was also underway.

On the ground, community members were greeted with a table assembled with homemade baked goods, including mini pumpkin pies and candy apples, along with t-shirts and stickers with the words “Unceded Land” written across them.

“When we made stickers and t-shirts, we saw that it started to become a movement and that people were interested in the fundraiser,” said Kahontanoron Deer, who launched the latest campaign to raise funds for Ratiwennenhá:wi alongside her cousin.

“We’ve been getting donations from wonderful people. And we’re so thankful that people actually care about this.”

Pushing language revitalization efforts on this commemorative day was a meaningful statement for the pair.

“The residential school system was an act of cultural genocide – they stole the children away from the family as young as three years old to send them to church-run boarding school to ‘kill the Indian and save the child’ which is the main reason our language and culture is dying,” explained Deer. “This is why I’m raising money for the language program in my community that helps us reconnect.”

With continued attention on health and collective healing, the day began with a morning tobacco burning attended by Kanehsata’kehró:non before the group led a march along the quiet streets of the community’s residential area.

“The idea was for us to stay in the community to be as safe as possible, so that everyone, including mothers with strollers and the elders, could take part,” explained Lauder, adding that rather than making a large public statement, the community focused on collective well-being. “We want everyone to get together in a safe environment while exercising at the same time – it’s the best of both worlds.”

Lauder estimated that around 215 participants took part in the march.

Keeping in line with the goal of the day’s activity, Kanehsata’kehró:non Jeffrey Nelson seized an opportunity to send an open invitation for all to meet at the community lacrosse box that afternoon.

“September 30th is very special for everybody. For myself, my grandfather went to residential school,” said Nelson, adding that his rakhsótha was a survivor. 

“When it comes to lacrosse, it’s something I played as a kid, and I figured there was no better way to bring people together than playing the Creator’s game, where we can involve kids, teenagers and everyone else.”

As the country mobilized to create awareness and push Onkwehón:we recognition forward, Kanehsata’kehró:non will continue to do so with the community’s healing always at its heart.

“Altogether, we recognize and acknowledge that this is our past, but it will not be our future,” said Lauder. “It’s together that we can all move forward.”

Laurence Brisson Dubreuil, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Door

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