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Canupawakpa walks to remember

At Canupawakpa Dakota Nation near Pipestone, Manitoba, people walk a square around the community, considering what the elders and ancestors experienced as children in residential schools.

Members of Canupawakpa Dakota Nation joined by several Fort La Bosse School Division school principals and teachers donned Every Child Matters shirts before embarking upon a memorial community walk on Sept. 26.

Dakota Nations communities are using the week to recognize the children who did not come home and the impact of the residential school system upon Indigenous families. Activities build throughout the week, up to the National Truth and Reconciliation Day on Sept. 30.

Monday morning, following a fire and ceremony at 10 a.m., shirts were handed out to the assembly of walkers.

A community elder shared a story of the impact of the residential school he attended, of an early life of alcohol and drugs, and how he has come full circle, back to the spirituality of the Dakota.

Councillor Sandy thanks elders, participants

Councillor Gerald Sandy thanked the Elder for sharing his story and then spoke briefly of his own family.

“My mum went to Brandon and my dad went to Lebret. Sometimes… in Dakota culture we don’t really talk to our dads.

“All I heard my mum say about my dad was that he ran away from Lebret School.”

Gerald Sandy’s mother attended Brandon Residential School.

“Things were good for her, but the only bad thing about it was, they were always hungry. She said that the teacher used to eat fruit. The teacher used to throw away her orange peelings… they would pick those up and eat them.

“I know it’s hard to talk about those kinds of things, sad at the same time, but those kinds of stories need to be told, taught in the schools, told to community members in surrounding towns and villages. They need to know those kinds of things happened to our community members here.”

Canupawakpa children were taken to schools in Elkhorn, Birtle, Brandon, Portage, and Lebret. Sandy said that Chief and Council have determined there are about 22 Canupawakpa living members who went to residential schools.

“Some of them are here today,” said Councillor Sandy. “I’d like to thank them and thank every one of you who are here today to participate.”

Words of wisdom from Chief Lola Thunderchild

Chief Lola Thunderchild thanked people for coming to participate.

“It’s been kind of an emotional day for me today, to hear the song, just to remember,” she said. A tear escapes her eyes as she refers to the drum song and the meaning saturating this day.

Thunderchild adjures her community, “We can’t be judging each other… everybody walks their own path. There’s people living here amongst us who did run away from residential school and who made it home. They have their own stories too. If we can help them heal from those experiences, just be kind to each other.”

She outlined the walk that starts at the pow wow grounds heading eastward, then travels north and then takes a road west to Hwy 83 where the walkers will then travel south on the highway and turn into the road to the Community Complex. A light lunch will await them.

“I know it’s kind of a long route but… our relatives have walked further than that to get home from residential schools. It was in the dark and they were hungry.”

The week of activities will culminate in a joyful celebration on Friday, Sept. 30.  Thunderchild said this Monday was “a day to remember and to reflect. We have all week long, every day, events happening. We’ll finish it off on a happy note.”

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