Students and staff at Yellowknife schools spent Friday honouring survivors ahead of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
While each school held its own ceremony, schools in the YK1 district were joined by the Yellowknives Dene Drummers for prayer songs and drum circles. Some students were given presentations about what it means to wear an orange shirt, while others watched videos about residential schools.
NJ Macpherson School students were joined by Gerri Sharpe, an Elder who, as a child, attended Akaitcho Hall, the same residential school her mother had been sent to many years prior.
Now a cultural safety officer at the Workers’ Safety and Compensation Commission, Sharpe said a part of her job is going to schools to teach kids about reconciliation. To her, Orange Shirt Day is a promise for a better future.
“Today means a lot of things, but really it’s a promise that it’s not going to happen again, is what it boils down to,” she told Cabin Radio.
“It’s important we have these conversations, because this is the generation that’s going to make sure it doesn’t happen any more. They will never know what it was like.”
Andrea Harding, YK1’s regional Indigenous languages and education coordinator, said: “As educators, it is our job to ensure that the students understand the histories and know about the past so that we can move forward in a positive way.
“Recognizing that we are on Chief Drygeese territory, it’s really important that we’re bringing our drummers, and we’re bringing some of the local Dene people in to be a part of those ceremonies today.”
While conversations within younger grades and older grades may differ, Harding hoped each student would leave the day with a new understanding of what reconciliation looks like and what it means to honour survivors.
“I think the students have been really touched and moved by it,” said Harding.
“For a lot of the little ones, this is their first introduction to learning about it. And for our older ones, they’ve taken the lead on some of the ceremonies, and they’ve been the ones that have been speaking, presenting our drummers with tobacco. So it’s been a really powerful day for those students and a powerful day of learning and working towards reconciliation together.”