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Lakehead raises National Truth and Reconciliation Flag

Flag pays tribute to residential school survivors and those who didn't survive.
Dignitaries, including Lakehead University president Gillian Siddall (centre) and residential school survivor Catherine McGuire (right), spoke on Thursday, Sept. 7, 2023, where a national Truth and Reconciliation Flag was raised. (Leith Dunick,

THUNDER BAY — The residential school era is gone, but survivors don’t want it forgotten, at least not entirely.

Nishnawbe Aski Nation Deputy Grand Chief Anna Betty Achneepineskum said it’s important for all of Canada to remember the atrocities associated with the residential school system, which ripped Indigenous children from their homes and attempted to assimilate them into the Euro-centric culture that dominated the Canadian landscape.

Achneepineskum was one of several guests invited to speak on Thursday at Lakehead University, where school officials raised a national Truth and Reconciliation flag, helping to launch a series of events being held this month at the Thunder Bay campus.

The orange and white flag, designed by residential school survivors, will fly outside the university’s main entrance.

“We’re very grateful that Lakehead University is doing this. It’s a very large campus and many people come from all around the world to this institution,” Achneepineskum said. “So, it’s very important that they have this initiative because it impacts many people, especially in terms of their reason for coming here, which is to learn.

“Part of that is learning the truth about the Indian residential school and what it represents.”

Residential schools were first opened in Canada in the 1870s, during the country’s infancy, and carried on for more than a century, the last schools not closing until the 1990s. During this period, young Indigenous children were forced from their homes, and in many cases, abused physically and sexually. They had their language and culture forcefully taken away and their parents had no choice whether or not send their children far from home.

The inter-generational trauma can still be felt today, Achneepineskum said.

“People have to know why we represent the majority of individuals in the correctional facilities and why do we represent higher rates of children in the child-welfare system,” she said.

“There has to be an understanding as to why that is, because when individuals have gone through significant trauma, or loss — because we have to remember there were many people that died in these institutions as well — that particular trauma is still impacting our people. Despite that, we have many people who have risen and have great achievements.”

Gillian Siddall, the recently installed president of Lakehead University, said it’s important to recognize the tragedy of the past and show the importance of Truth and Reconciliation moving forward.

Siddall said universities have a critical role to play in the Truth and Reconciliation process, adding it’s incumbent on post-secondary schools to make sure students have the opportunity to learn that history and truth — and then be part of the solution.

It’s even important at the largest university in Northwestern Ontario.

“This is an incredibly important location. There are many First Nations in this large geographic area and we want to be inclusive of all of them at the university and come together as often as we can,” Siddall said.

“You could feel how impactful this day was for everyone who was here. The words of the Indigenous leaders who were here were powerful and inspiring and as much as they are about reminding us of a very painful past, they are also looking ahead to working together for a much better future.”

Other events being held this month include a Tipi Talk on Sept. 12 from noon to 1 p.m. in the Agora Circle, a Fall Harvest Feast on Sept. 16, a Métis 101 workshop on Sept. 21 in the faculty lounge and an ongoing artwork project curated by artist Ryan Pooman.

Leith Dunick

About the Author: Leith Dunick

A proud Nova Scotian who has called Thunder Bay home since 2002, Leith is Dougall Media's director of news, but still likes to tell your stories too. Wants his Expos back and to see Neil Young at least one more time. Twitter: @LeithDunick
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