TEMISKAMING SHORES — Just a few metres from a place where children are lovingly cared for, a sacred fire was lit to honour the 215 Indigenous children whose remains were found buried at a British Columbia residential school.
Over 100 people gathered outside the Mino M’shki-ki Indigenous Health Team location at the Temiskaming Hospital on June 3. The sacred fire event was held to honour the memory of the Indigenous children whose graves were found in Kamloops and the survivors of the residential school experience.
“We wanted to speak of the trauma, the healing and the need for action for Indigenous children through the sacred fire,” said Mino M’shki-ki Health Team worker and sacred fire keeper, Nathan McMartin.
Established in 2018, the health team promotes holistic health, prevention, treating illness through traditional healing and land-based activities for Indigenous people in the Temiskaming region.
The remains of 215 children were discovered recently on the site of the Kamloops Indian Residential School, which operated between 1890 and 1969.
The sacred fire, which was attended by both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, was held in a wooded area where a tipi is located, to remember the children through song, prayer and offerings.
“I have mixed emotions,” said McMartin.
“It is finally coming out. I lived it, my father was a residential school survivor. The path forward is to teach the proper Canadian history that involves the residential school experience.”
McMartin is a member of the Timiskaming First Nation.
SEVEN GRANDFATHER TEACHINGS
He said the day’s events centered on the Seven Grandfather teachings and for him the teaching of humility is paramount.
The Seven Grandfather teachings – wisdom, love, respect, bravery, honesty, humility and truth – are key foundations of Indigenous life.
“I preach humility. We were gifted with the seven teachings and we come together today as two different nations under one roof.”
Many of The Temiskaming Hospital staff took part in the sacred fire along with CEO and hospital president Mike Baker.
“A lot of staff came out today and this is important to be able to participate in the drumming and singing. I was really impressed and we are grateful for the invitation to participate. It was an important time for reflection and for people to address their emotions in a safe place. It was important that we show our Indigenous friends that we mourn with them and that we support them.”
He said the flags at the hospital will remain at half-mast and staff have been wearing orange in support of “Every Child Matters.”
SKIRTS AND JINGLE DRESS
Workers from the Keepers of the Circle Aboriginal Family Learning Centre in New Liskeard wore ribbon skirts to the event and one worker, Darlene Skani, wore her jingle dress and danced in honour of the children.
An Indigenous girl or woman wears the jingle dress or prayer dress when she performs a jingle dance, called a healing dance.
The sound of the jingle cones is distinctive.
The women wore their ribbon skirts as a symbol of strength, resilience and respect for all the children, but especially for the girls in residential schools who were not allowed to wear their ribbon skirts or wear any clothing representing Indigenous culture.
This wasn’t the only local memorial in the Temiskaming region.
The Salvation Army Church in New Liskeard decorated its Thrift Store window, The Silver Moccasin in Cobalt had an orange-themed display and Open Studio Libre in Haileybury had an orange heart-shaped display as well honouring the 215 children.
The City of Temiskaming Shores and several surrounding municipalities lowered their flags to half-mast.