Once a year, the yellow reconciliation flag gets raised at City Hall in downtown to mark the beginning of a month-long effort to get all citizens to engage in the Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. On Friday morning of May 24th, the event began early with the men gathering at 8 am for the Pipe Ceremony to prepare and purify the space for the rest of the morning. Around 9 am, a lineup began to form for the long table bearing a continental breakfast of fruits, cheeses, danishes, and muffins (and for those of us who have long associated ‘free breakfast down at City Hall’ with sausages and pancakes, this healthier fare made real the call to live and walk differently, starting now).
Performances … the St Michael’s School band of singers and fiddlers played the Metis National Anthem beautifully, with Metis representation particularly strong this year, marking the very first time the President of Metis Nation Saskatchewan (Glen McAllum) has taken part in this Ceremony. Master of Ceremonies and Residential School Survivor Eugene Arcand kept the energy high, while also keeping the focus where it belonged – on the Residential School and Sixties Scoop survivors, First Nations and Metis veterans, and missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. A particularly poignant moment came for our Diocese when he recognized Roger Assailly, in attendance, and Mary Ann, Roger’s wife, ill at home. Arcand recounted for the crowd, by now numbering in the hundreds and containing numerous leaders and dignitaries, how Roger and Mary Ann had at their own expense travelled to Onion Lake years ago to search for and eventually locate the unmarked graves of five First Nations children who had died, been buried, and abandoned by the residential school operators.
From the microphone, Eugene Arcand reminded us that this year’s Rock Your Roots Walk coming up on National Aboriginal Day June 21st, and the culmination of the month-long Call to Action, has as its theme “reignite the fire”. Nothing better for doing so than to take a break in the middle of the proceedings and call everybody out onto the dance floor for a festive, high energy performance of the Red River Jig, with Mayor Charlie Clark and a number of other leaders in attendance ‘cutting a rug’ along with some of the children and other folks who heeded the call to ‘get up and dance’. “Let’s have some fun together,” Arcand exclaimed, with both cheerfulness and urgency, getting down to a crucial point sometimes underplayed out of a responsible effort not to detract from the gravity of colonial history: reconciliation means fuller life, and yes, more fun too.
Frank Badger spoke on behalf of the Residential School Survivors, many of whom gathered at the front together while the dancers circled around. As the morning came towards its conclusion, singer Ray Villebrun sung his rip-roaring composition “Drums” while accompanying himself on acoustic guitar.