Transcript of Indigenous ceremony conducted Thursday, July 1, 2021
Introduction: Mayor Rob Keffer
Land Acknowledgment: Councillor Mark Contois“The Town of Bradford West Gwillimbury recognizes and acknowledges the lands originally used and occupied by the Peoples of the Williams Treaties First Nations and other Indigenous Peoples.On behalf of the Mayor and Council, we would like to thank them for sharing this land.We would also like to acknowledge the Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation as our closest First Nation community and recognize the unique relationship the Chippewas have with the lands and waters of this territory. They are the water protectors and environmental stewards of these lands and we join them in these responsibilities."
- Good morning everyone, and thank you so much for being here.
- We thought it important to have a Canada Day indigenous program and ceremony this morning. Members of council are joining me here and we thought it important to realize that we have to learn, we have to remember, we have to think hard about the origins of our country, and yet we are also able celebrate the good things that we know that Canada is to each and every one of us.
- We will begin today with a land acknowledgement statement written by Donna Big Canoe of the Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation.
- It will be will be read by Councillor Mark Contois, who is from the Beausoleil First Nation, specifically the Potawatomi Nation, which rests in the southern tip of Georgian Bay on Christian, Beckwith and Hope Islands.
Introduction to White Eagle: Mayor Rob Keffer
- I'm not going to apologize for being emotional – I wasn't going to speak about this but I think I should. I have family First Nations, I have family Six Nations. I have asked them how they felt about cancelling Canada Day. None of them wanted to cancel Canada Day.
- They wanted to educate, they wanted acknowledgement and they want to heal.
- We are strong people, we've been through lots, and we will get through this.
- Canada is a better place than it was back then, and I want to see us strive and move forward, and I thank you just for being here.
Blessing: White Eagle
- I want to introduce you to White Eagle. This is Doug Gray, a resident of Bond Head.
- Doug has travelled the world representing Indigenous people and bringing blessings from Canada. And I'll ask Doug to bring a blessing for us today.
Flag Raising: Mayor Rob Keffer
- Boozhoo aaniin. In our language, it is “Greetings my children".
- We gather today, once again the circle has formed and we gather together in oneness of spirit.
- For there was a time when the children did not grow up in the circle.
- We are able today, with a sense of pride and dignity, to know that we too are honoured in this land once more.
- We are able to speak our languages, we are able to say our prayers, and we are able to teach our children. So we see that as a great gift that's given to us by the spirit.
- We are all souls. When we take away the skin, and it will one day, it will leave us as canoes. We will come back as spirit and return to our creator.
- This morning we see a chair in front of us. This is in memory of all of our ancestors. Not just mine, but yours too.
- There is a crowd so great that none of us can begin to number them.
- So today is a time of truth and reconciliation. It's a time to celebrate the awakening. The sun has broken through the skies and pierced the darkness. We are free. We are free to grow, we are free to love and we are free to learn.
- At this time, when the flags are flying at half mast, it's a time to do soul searching inside of ourselves and find out how connected you are to your history. All we have to do is ask people.
- How many of you have gone to a pow wow? Good for you!
- Maybe by the next one we will all have gone there. They have wonderful pow wows in the community and they share their dancing and their joys.
- So for the ancestors that have joined us in spirit, I am just going to ask this blessing and prayer.
- Oh Creator who has given us the moon, the stars, the sun, and the days of our lives, help us as your children as we bow our heads in gratitude and thanksgiving.
- For the many, many blessings and gifts that are so freely bestowed upon us in our everyday lives, for the gift of family, for the gift of love and for the gift of this land, who we are the guardians, the keepers, may we be faithful as guardians to continually guard this sacred land, mother earth, and all of the children who are yet to come and will make their way in the spiritual migration of souls.
- Now I'm going to light the sacred smudge.
- [White Eagle then conducts the smudge ceremony.]
- Remember those who have come before us and have taken their place in the council of the almighty and creator, and the grandmothers who come today to join us, the grandfathers who come in spirit and celebrate with us the journey.
- This prayer braid is braided with prayers. It was picked six years ago by the grandmothers and it stays green and aligned because the prayers are aligned, and as long as it is tied at both ends it stays fresh, so I invite you all to smell it.
- [White Eagle then presents the prayer braid to Mayor Keffer]
- Now that we have done the sacred smudge let's all come together in sending away any doubt, anything you can't let go of.
- Who cares … a hundred years from now … who cares who was right or wrong? The truth is that it's now, in the nowness of the moment that we come together in spirit to honour our journeys.
- So with your hands on your hearts, let's all say thank you. We all say Miigwetch. Miigwetch. And one more time, Miigwetch.
- Miigwetch means thank you, from the Creator's heart to my heart to your heart. To remember the word, you can always say “make a wish" with your hand on your heart, and the Creator will accept that because the Creator is gracious.
- Today is a new day. Don't let anything interrupt or interfere with that.
- Watch the heavens to see eagles soar up in the clouds. When we watch for eagles, watch up in the clouds and you'll see the black darts, and it's the eagle that flies higher than any other creature.
- Today we have not brought people together because of the sacrednessity of the ceremony and because the heart of the people is heavy.
- We now take a moment of silence with our hands on our hearts, and remember the atrocities that are going on, and we release them, bless them, forgive them and let them go.
- Together we say Miigwetch. Miigwetch. Miigwetch.
- It is done, my children, we have opened the ceremony with sacrednessity and with the tradition of the First Nations people. Miigwetch.
Truth & Reconciliation: Mayor Rob Keffer
- Thank you White Eagle.
- White Eagle has a presence about him, which is why he has been invited around the world to bring teachings and blessings.
- So at this time we will have the flag raising. I would like to thank Mr. William McCue, Councillor of the Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation, as well as Chief Donna Big Canoe for providing us with the flag that we are raising here today.
- I will ask Councillor Contois and White Eagle to come to the flag pole.
- As we do so, I would like to play a recording that councilors heard at the Air Cadets ceremony at the Bradford Legion a few years ago.
- It is sung by Asani, an Aboriginal women's a cappella group with members based in Alberta and B.C.
- In this recording they have re-imagined our national anthem to reflect the myriad peoples who call Canada their homeland.
(recording available on YouTube: https://youtu.be/_9hnrGwGFl4)
- Following the flag raising and anthem, we will again lower the flag to half-mast to honour the Indigenous children whose lives were taken far too soon, and as we reflect on the tragedy of residential schools.
- [Flag of the Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation is then raised and lowered again to half-mast.]
Closing: White Eagle
- At this time I'm going to read from the Truth & Reconciliation report a short summary:
- “Canada's residential school system for Aboriginal children was an education system in name only for much of its existence. These residential schools were created for the purpose of separating Aboriginal children from their families, in order to minimize and weaken family ties and cultural linkages, and to indoctrinate children into a new culture—the culture of the legally dominant Euro-Christian Canadian society, led by Canada's first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald.
- The schools were in existence for well over 100 years, and many successive generations of children from the same communities and families endured the experience of them.
- That experience was hidden for most of Canada's history, until Survivors of the system were finally able to find the strength, courage, and support to bring their experiences to light in several thousand court cases that ultimately led to the largest class-action lawsuit in Canada's history.
- The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada was a commission like no other in Canada. Constituted and created by the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, which settled the class actions, the Commission spent six years travelling to all parts of Canada to hear from the Aboriginal people who had been taken from their families as children, forcibly if necessary, and placed for much of their childhoods in residential schools.
- The Commission heard from more than 6,000 witnesses, most of whom survived the experience of living in the schools as students. The stories of that experience are sometimes difficult to accept as something that could have happened in a country such as Canada, which has long prided itself on being a bastion of democracy, peace, and kindness throughout the world. Children were abused, physically and sexually, and they died in the schools in numbers that would not have been tolerated in any school system anywhere in the country, or in the world.
- But, shaming and pointing out wrongdoing were not the purpose of the Commission's mandate. Ultimately, the Commission's focus on truth determination was intended to lay the foundation for the important question of reconciliation. Now that we know about residential schools and their legacy, what do we do about it?
- Getting to the truth was hard, but getting to reconciliation will be harder. It requires that the paternalistic and racist foundations of the residential school system be rejected as the basis for an ongoing relationship. Reconciliation requires that a new vision, based on a commitment to mutual respect, be developed. It also requires an understanding that the most harmful impacts of residential schools have been the loss of pride and self-respect of Aboriginal people, and the lack of respect that non-Aboriginal people have been raised to have for their Aboriginal neighbours.
- Reconciliation is not an Aboriginal problem; it is a Canadian one. Virtually all aspects of Canadian society may need to be reconsidered." (from the Truth & Reconciliation report summary)
- So what we're going to do, we've come together to remember and to, in our own ways, to be able to touch our hearts in oneness of spirit. And I close with this prayer:
- Oh great Creator, the days of our lives have taught us to ever be grateful. To realize each morning when we open our eyes that we have been given another day.
- And in that gift we can share with others, and we can bring joy and healing back to sacred stars that wants no more than for her children to find peace, to find peace, to find joy and to be in gratitude
- So with our hands on our hearts, each one of us, for all of our blessings, for all of the gifts that have been given to us, we honour the spirit by saying Miigwetch, Miigwetch, Miigwetch.
- And to those ancestors who have joined us who have come and travelled the spiral staircase to be with us, we honour them. And now they return.
- Miigwetch, Miigwetch, Miigwetch.
- It is done. Miigwetch