Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

Remember this moment: poignant and powerful ceremony at StFX marks inaugural National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

September 30th, 2021
StFX, in collaboration with local Mi’kmaw partners and the StFX Indigenous Affairs Office, hosted a remembrance ceremony marking the inaugural National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

“Remember this moment,” Michelle Sylliboy, an assistant professor at StFX and a descendant of Indian Residential School survivors, told the large crowd gathered on campus on September 30 for a remembrance ceremony marking the inaugural National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in Canada. 

“Our shared history was never fully written about or talked about,” she said during a part of the ceremony held outdoors at Alumni Plaza where all those on hand were invited to tie an orange ribbon on an installation in memory of the over 6,500 children who lost their lives in the residential school system. Volunteer members of the Indigenous Student Society spent countless hours cutting the ribbons for the installation, which will remain on display for the month of October, Mi’kmaq History Month. 

“Tell your families what happened and tell them they should never repeat that history again,” she said during a poignant ceremony that began in the Joyce Family Atrium in Mulroney Hall before moving outside. 

StFX hosted the event in collaboration with local Mi’kmaw partners and the StFX Indigenous Affairs Office to help honour and remember residential school survivors and the 6,500-plus children recovered.

During the event, Prof. Sylliboy, who also shared a personal account of her experiences, provided an explanation of the 215 children statement found in the commemorative garden on the grounds outside StFX’s Coady Institute. The commemorative bed has ‘215’ (commemorating the original 215 children who were unearthed at a residential school) and the Mi’kmaq hieroglyph for children in orange flowers. The hieroglyphics were taken from a poem by Prof. Sylliboy.  

The statement, which in English translates to read, ‘Children, they found you, you were buried, we love you,’ was co-written with elders, community members and language scholars, many of whom attended the remembrance ceremony. She thanked them for their contributions. “Thank you for allowing StFX to share what we put together in the garden.”

Terena Francis, Coordinator, Indigenous Student Affairs at StFX, and a descendant of Indian Residential School survivors, also shared powerful insights in her remarks, while she also honoured the legacy of her parents and family. 

Ms. Francis says she was overwhelmed by emotion from the amount of support shown today. 

“I ask you to continue to educate yourself on our shared history.”

The ceremony began with Mi’kmaw elder and StFX Knowledge Keeper Kerry Prosper explaining the importance of the smudging ceremony he performed that morning, in commemoration of all those spirits who never had a ceremony. Elder Prosper also led a prayer of remembrance. 

StFX President Dr. Andy Hakin noted the university is closed today so that people can come together to listen and to reflect on a shared history that challenges us so very much.

For there to be reconciliation, he said we must learn and speak the truth, we must come together to reflect on the historical injustices inflicted on the Indigenous population, injustices that continue today. This history cannot be swept under the rug. 

“As a community that aspires to be fair and equitable, this is a time for us to listen and learn. It is a time for us to focus and think about the work that we can do on an individual and collective basis, to take reconciliation efforts forward,” he said. 

“Yes, we have much to learn.”

Dr. Hakin also told the story behind the origin of Orange Shirt Day, telling of a student who arrived at a residential school wearing a new orange shirt that was taken from her. It came to represent the stripping away of culture, of freedom, of self-esteem. 

He called on everyone to commit to a deeper responsibility, to take as many opportunities as they can for deeper insight into our shared history, to listen and learn and work together for healing. 

“Let’s fully embrace the fact we are all Treaty People.”

VP Students Elizabeth Yeo served as the emcee. She noted how important it is to continue to honour and remember and shed light on the tragedy of the Indian Residential Schools that operated in Canada from 1831 to 1998. 

Many StFX students attended the event, including a large number from the StFX football team, who stood in solidarity, wearing orange t-shirts, lining the stairwells and upper floors of Mulroney Hall overlooking the Joyce Family Atrium. 

The ceremony started with traditional drumming and singing from the group, We’kaqma’qewiskwa, who also closed the event with an honour song. 

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