Leadership with the City of Kenora has put forward plans to honour the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation later this month, in honour of the region’s shared Indigenous history.

The federal government passed legislation to make September 30 a federal statutory holiday in June, one of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of 2015’s Calls to Action, to provide opportunities for federal workers to recognize and commemorate the legacy of residential schools.

While the Ontario government confirmed the day will not be a provincial statutory holiday earlier this month, staff with the City of Kenora are planning to close city facilities for half of the day on September 30, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., if a motion from Kenora’s Senior Leadership Team is approved. It was put forward during this week’s Committee of the Whole meeting.

Director of Corporate Services Heather Pihulak says the city’s Senior Leadership Team felt ‘very strongly’ about recognizing the importance of the day, and is calling for all staff to attend a pathway of educational sessions involving residential school survivors and their experiences.

“We have a full pathway of education planned for staff, and they will spend a great deal of time learning,” she said, adding staff will be going through workshops at the Kenora Rec Centre later in the day. “We’re really excited about the day and the educational opportunity for all of our staff.”

Pihulak says the mandatory training will include every municipal employee, as well as Mayor and Council. The City is also encouraging all citizens to share their stories of residential schools with their families and communities, to aid in moving forward together in reconciliation.

Each staff member will also be given an Every Child Matters orange shirt to wear. Councillor Rory McMillan complimented the City for proactively putting the day together.

“It’s a very proactive, positive and powerful teaching tool – to have people interact with the displays. It’s a very moving display,” McMillan notes there will be additional events along the Harbourfront and Greenbelt on September 30.

City councillor Sharon Smith reminds the public that the Lake of the Woods District Museum will continue to host the ‘powerful’ and ‘moving’ “We were taught differently” display about the history of the Cecilia Jeffrey and St. Mary’s residential schools in the region, and encourages everyone to experience the display over the next three weeks.

“That’s one of the most powerful displays I’ve ever seen,” said Smith, who shared a story about the display being shown at a regional hotel that included displaced evacuees from the far north. Smith says people were very moved by the exhibit and experience.

For over 100 years, over 150,000 Indigenous youth were forcibly taken from their families to be assimilated into residential schools and settler-culture, which included giving youth new names, haircuts and identification numbers.

The Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School in Kenora was built in 1901 and ran until 1976. The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation says at least 37 students passed away while attending the Presbyterian Church-ran school.

St. Mary’s Indian Residential School was run by the Roman Catholic Church near the Devil’s Gap Marina. The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation says at least 36 students passed away while attending the school, which was operated by the Roman Catholic Church until 1972.

If you are a residential school survivor, you are able to contact the 24-hour National Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419 for support.