The Grassroots Movement Committee in Bonnyville provided a full day of entertainment and educational activities on Thursday, the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

The day culminated in a drive-through around town.

The committee was formed specifically to observe Truth and Reconciliation Day. 

“Several of the people in the group are first generation—they attended residential school,” said Rosa John, a member of the committee. “Others are second generation whose parents attended residential school, and then some whose grandparents attended residential school. 

“It’s all about keeping it very personal,” John said. “That’s what I found with the group. Everybody was there because it was very, very personal to them.”

The online programming included opening words by dignitaries, shared experiences from local survivors, traditional storytelling and dance, hoop dance, Metis dance, fiddlers, and award-winning traditional drum group Northern Cree. 

John shared the story of Phyllis Webster, who had been sent to a residential school and brought a favourite orange shirt to wear. When she arrived, the shirt was taken from her and replaced with a school uniform. This is the origin of the “Orange Shirt” movement that honours residential school survivors and commemorates those children who died at the institutions.

John said the drive-through was an uplifting experience. 

“It was really touching when people came to their windows and and would show their orange shirt, or would come out wearing an orange shirt. And some of them were just kids on the street, just watching,” she said.

“It was sombre, everybody had their feelings. But it was such a beautiful welcoming. To see people smiling and waving in Bonnyville to native people like that was really, really beautiful to see.”

She says the response of Canadians to the orange shirt movement, and to the generations of children it honours, is a big step forward on the road to reconciliation. The trauma will continue to resonate for more generations to come.

“Something needs to be done,” John said. “We can’t walk around with blinders anymore. It’s in front of everybody. 

“Because before, it was easy, right? It was just, ‘oh, natives are talking about that again. They’re always talking about that residential school.’ And nobody knew what it was like. People didn’t even know what it was. It was crazy.

“That’s the other thing, the whole word reconciliation,” she said. “To make a reconciliation, you have to start to make things right. And this is absolutely a first step towards that—to be able to drive around and have non-native people with a smile on their face when we drive by like that was incredible. And I think that it’s a huge, huge step forward, absolutely.”