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National Day for Truth and Reconciliation: Photo Story Sept. 30, 2021

On May 27, 2021, the remains of 215 Indigenous children were found buried on the former grounds of the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia. The Government of Canada has since begun an inquiry into how many Indigenous children died within and because of this state-run and state-funded system. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission documented over 6,000 deaths, while former commission chair, Murray Sinclair, estimates that the total number is likely much higher.

Four months later, Sept. 30, 2021, marked the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. This is how the day unfolded as seen and experienced by 17 young journalists studying photojournalism at Carleton University's School of Journalism and Communication.

More than 1,000 people congregated on Parliament Hill for Orange Shirt Day and the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Pass the Feather Indigenous ArtsCollective of Canada organized a morning of ceremonies on Parliament Hill and an afternoon of food, activities and speeches at Confederation Park. (Photo © Natasha Bulowski)

In the center of Confederation Park, at the entrance of the Remember Me: A National Day of Remembrance event, visitors were able to add their paint handprint to a plastic sheet. A handwashing station was placed next to this interactive art installation to ensure visitors were able to wash their hands after participating. (Photo © Maryann Enns)

At Confederation Park following the Spirit Walk from Parliament Hill to Confederation Park, people add handprints to an interactive art installation for missing and murdered Indigenous women (Photo © Ann Pill)

Children take turns making hand imprints with paint on a plastic sheet at the Confederation Park ceremonies. (Photo © Matias Bessai)

Another child adds their handprint to an interactive art installation at Confederation Park on the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. The red handprints represent missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, and the orange represent victims of residential schools. (Photo © Natasha Bulowski)

Hundreds of children's shoes are on display at Parliament Hill, left by people to represent the children who died at residential schools. In 2021, over 1,000 unmarked burials were discovered at residential schools across the country. (Photo © Ariel Harker)
By 10 a.m. thousands had gathered on Parliament Hill to attend the opening ceremony of Remember Me: A National Day of Remembrance. (Photo © Matias Bessai)
A survivor has a quiet moment, sitting on a stage at Parliament Hill in between ceremonies for the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. (Photo © Natasha Bulowski)
Three women softy beat drums as the observers of the inaugural National Day for Truth and Reconciliation walk down Elgin Street. towards Confederation Park. (Photo © Matias Bessai)
After the march, 23-year-old Bethany Stewart (right) and 26-year-old Kirstan Thivierge (left) take in the performances and speeches at Confederation Park before Stewart, a survivor of the child welfare system, addressed the crowd. “I grew up in a white home, away from my culture, abused all my life,” Stewart told the crowd. “I don’t want to see any more of our children being taken and growing up like I did.” Stewart is from Wemindji, one of nine Cree First Nations Communities on the Eeyou Istchee territory. Thivierge is Two-Spirit and hails from Beaverhouse First Nation. (Photo © Natasha Bulowski)
A couple arrives at the vigil for lost children to find a crowd of people there to show their support and pay respect. (Photo © Michael Edgar)
Sign language interpreter, Annette Sandy, repeats a speech made by Cree elder “Princess of the North” on the stolen identity of her ancestors. (Photo © Michael Edgar)
Ottawa hit-hop artist, Cody Coyote (left), singing a song that help him reconnect with his native language. The song, Manidoo Dewe’igan, hit number one on the Indigenous Music Countdown in 2019. (Photo © Becca Weston)

Some chose to take time away from the events in downtown Ottawa to engage in quieter reflection.

Joel Ross-Gruben (top) and Hayden Stewart (bottom) spent much of the day Remic Rapids Park.

“Do you know why the water and clouds are like this today?” asks Joel Ross-Gruben. “It’s shedding more tears for what today is. In our weather we believe weather responds to our actions.” (Photo © Michael Edgar)

“When I woke up, I felt very off knowing the day was to mourn and respect Indigenous cultures.” Says Hayden Stewart in reflection of Orange Shirt Day. “In the back of my mind I knew that our culture was always respected, but of course there are a few instances where I was racialized or stereotyped in Ottawa.”(Photo © Michael Edgar)

“There was a time when mercury poisoning was as huge thing in the Northwest Territories” says Hayden Stewart while he washes his face with the cold Ottawa River water. “I’m not too sure where it originated but it infected a couple freshwater lakes.” [Photo © Michael Edgar]

Hayden Stewart and Joel Ross-Gruben came to Ottawa in 2017 with a group of four people from their community of Tuktoyaktuk, NWT. Of the group, they are the only two who remain and observe Orange Shirt Day together at Remic Rapids. (Photo © Michael Edgar)

Hayden Stewart meditates in front of a vigil for the discovered remains of residential school victims at Remic Rapids Park. Stewart says he uses meditation as a way of coping with difficult emotions in his daily life. (Photo © Michael Edgar)

Peoplele across the country found different ways to recognize the significance of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. This is how one group of people in an Ontario community near Niagara chose to mark the day.

Captions from top-left to bottom-right:

Horse wisdom Yoga practitioner Dawn Lawson-Gula hosted an event to honour the land and the death of indigenous children during their time at the residential schools. Lawson-Gula said her drum, which stays with her in her bedroom, spoke to her about doing something to honour the National Eay for Truth and Reconciliation. (Photo © Tala Muhtadi)

The event started included a walk around the farm alongside the animals while Dawn Lawson-Gula used her drum as participants followed silently behind her. (Photo © Tala Muhtadi)

Dawn Lawson-Gula said Sandra, the horse, is drawn to the energy of grief which proved true as she followed the participant along the walk to support with the grief felt over the deaths of indigenous children. (Photo © Tala Muhtadi)

Before heading back from the walk, participants like Pearl Robinson, reflected on the reality of Truth and Reconciliation as well as their family’s involvement with the Indigenous children. “I’m not trying to completely throw my parents under the bus, I think they really did think they were doing the right thing and the best thing, so acknowledging that maybe our thoughts and our beliefs aren’t always right and just being open to being wrong." (Photo © Tala Muhtadi)

“It's just mind boggling to me because that is not the faith that I know, at any turn or point, and so knowing that things like that were done in the name of Jesus, or whatever they thought they were doing, I can’t, it’s just indescribable, and yeah that’s definitely not what Jesus would have done,” said Robinson. (Photo © Tala Muhtadi)

“For me working in sexual assault, I just see so many of [Indigenous People] , and it is so much from how they were raised and it’s just the trauma just keeps repeating itself, repeating itself, and it is like how do we break that cycle, how do we give them back their pride, how do we give them back their freedom,” said Dawn Lawson-Gula. (Photo © Tala Muhtadi)

“It is an amazing opportunity to look at the past and try to bring healing to the future with love and acknowledgement. My son lives in Australia, and I know he works with some of the Indigenous [People] there and it is a similar situation,” said Pearl Robinson. “This is a worldwide situation that we have, going on from the past. And so just wanting to be part of something right here in the Niagara Region is so important because this was the Indigenous area.” (Photo © Tala Muhtadi)

During the truth and reconciliation event held by Dawn Lawson-Gula, she voiced her thoughts on the “horrors” of the reality lived by Indigenous communities in the past. She said the church has persecuted people for years. “I practice a lot of pagan beliefs, and witches were burned at the stake, anything that goes against the norm is persecuted” said Lawson-Gula, “They’ve given them a voice, they finally have a day to voice, to say I don’t pretend to be a victim I am trying to heal too.” (Photo © Tala Muhtadi)

Sit Alone Bear (James Eagle) and Cecilia, his wife of 66 years, lead the Spirit Walk to Confederation Park following the opening ceremonies for the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Residential school survivors and their children walk at the front of the procession. (Photo © Natasha Bulowski)
Born in 1934 in Tootinaowaziibeeng First Nation, Sit Alone Bear (James Eagle) is a survivor of the Pine Creek Indian Residential School and a Korean War veteran. “We are going to tell the people of Canada what happened at those schools,” he said. “There (are) a lot of non-believers in Canada.” (Photo © Natasha Bulowski)
At Confederation Park, four-year-old Maxine George enjoys a doughnut while her 36-year-old mother, Heather George, speaks to the organizers of Remember Me: A National Day of Remembrance. The pair came to support George’s uncles, Doug George-Kaneentiio and Dean George, one of whom made a speech at the opening ceremonies at Parliament Hill. (Photo © Natasha Bulowski)

Since the discovery of the unmarked graves in Kamloops this summer, memorials like this have been erected across the country, including on Parliament Hill. Children’s shoes and toys, along with signs calling for accountability for the suffering and trauma experienced by Indigenous Peoples in Canada have been placed at these memorials. The memorial on Parliament Hill seen here is especially moving because it is on the grounds of the institution that created this system in the first place (Photo © Camille Vinet)

Pablo Ferdinand is out with his children and showing them the display on Parliament Hill. His eldest daughter is currently doing a school project where she is taking photos of things on Algonquin Territory. She said it was important "that people learn about this stuff when they're younger, so we don't repeat it." (Photo © Harriet Smith)

A woman among the crowd of thousands marching down Elgin Street raises a bundle of eagle feathers, one of many traditional symbols among the Indigenous Peoples of Canada. Photo © Matias Bessai

A young woman motionlessly poses with an ornate sculpture comprised of boughs and rope. (Photo © Matias Bessai)

A group of women drummers perform Heartbeats with Our Living Drums. They played their drums to mimic the sound of a heartbeat and gradually slowed down until they eventually stopped and were silent — decolonizing a moment of silence. (Photo © Ann Pill)
A woman gazes at all the shoes placed on Parliament Hill while her friends had a conversation a few feet away, she stood in silence. (Photo © Harriet Smith)
Joseph Monette played his ceremonial drum on Parliament Hill during the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on Sept. 30. Monette always leaves a braid of sweetgrass inside his drum. He also carries a card inside his drum depicting the Indigenous Saint, Kateri Tekakwitha, who died the same day as Monette's birthday. (Photo © Ariel Harker)
Shelby Lisk, an Ottawa-based Kanyen’kehá:ka photographer, filmmaker, and journalist with roots in Kenhtè:ke (Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, in Ontario). wears a beaded clip while attending the speeches on Parliament Hill. (Photo © Matias Bessai)
A demonstrator waves the flag of the Mohawk Warrior Society on Parliament Hill as the crowd begins to depart for the Spirit Walk. (Photo © Matias Bessai)
Thousands wearing orange marched together from Parliament Hill to Confederation Park. (Photo © Matias Bessai)
The crowd at Remember Me: A National Day of Remembrance in Confederation Park looked on as Mokhena Rankin Guérin jumped off of the stage. Guérin arranged their hoops to represent wings and ran in a circle during one of the two hoop dances they performed. (Photo © Maryann Enns)
After the ceremonies at Parliament hill, attendees marched to Confederation Park where traditional Indigenous art demonstrations like basketry, beading and metalworking were available for all to try. Sarah Green, 72, braids sweetgrass for the first time at Confederation Park. Her family immigrated to Canada when she was 13, and she has lived in Ottawa for 40 years. Green said braiding the sweetgrass slowed her down and gave her an opportunity to reflect. She feels “it is urgent that we face our dark history as well as the injustices that continue to exist.” (Photo © Natasha Bulowski)
Rows and rows of chairs are set up for survivors around a stage at Parliament Hill, each with an orange lily or carnation on it. Before the opening ceremonies for the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, survivors of residential schools and day schools were each honoured with the gift of an eagle feather. (Photo © Natasha Bulowsi)
Most of the people attending the event on Parliament Hill were wearing orange shirts, which have become a symbol due to the story of Phyllis Webstad. As a young girl, Webstad had her belongings confiscated when she arrived at residential school, including a brand-new orange shirt her grandmother had given her. The slogan “Every Child Matters” on this sweatshirt has become a phrase representative of the movement since the discovery of the 215 unmarked graves of children at a Kamloops residential school. (Photo © Camille Vinet)
A person wipes away tears during the opening ceremonies for the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on Parliament Hill. (Photo © Natasha Bulowski)
A survivor watches the opening ceremonies through the media fray, clutching their eagle feather and orange lilies. (Photo © Natasha Bulowski)
These toys, scattered at Parliament Hill, represent the children who lost their lives in the residential schools. (Photo © Harriet Smith)
Peter Bryce's gravestone located at the Beechwood Cemetery. Bryce was the first secretary of the Provincial Board of Health of Ontario and wrote a report that stated that the residential schools were depriving children of good living conditions. His report was never published by the government, so he published it himself in 1922. (Photo © Harriet Smith)
A sign, wet with rain, left at the memorial on Parliament Hill. The sign expresses great sorrow and emotion from the person who wrote it. It is unknown how long the sign was there. (Photo © Harriet Smith)
A survivor holding orange lilies walks arm-in-arm away from Parliament Hill towards Confederation Park after the opening ceremonies for the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. (Photo © Natasha Bulowski)
A survivor holds up a red shirt and an eagle feather among the crowd during the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation Ceremonies at Parliament Hill, symbolizing all the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. (Photo © Natasha Bulowski)
Theresa Bear Fox (centre) and the Akwesasne Women’s Singers perform at Parliament Hill for a crowd of more than 1,000 people on the National Day for Truth and reconciliation. Their songs expressed the pain of losing one’s child and honoured the children who never came home. (Photo © Natasha Bulowski)
Jonel Beauvais, a Wolf Clan woman from Akwesasne, speaks to a crowd of over a thousand on Parliament Hill at the first ever National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. “We just want the truth to be told,” says Beauvais. “Because we all know that things that happen in the dark all come to light. (Photo © Ann Pill)
An exhibit of beaded vamps, found on the tops of moccasins, was on display at Confederation Park's ceremony. (Photo © Emma Jackson)
An Indigenous flag flies at half-mast during the moment of silence in remembrance of lives lost. (Photo © Gillian Peebles)
(Photo © Matias Bessai)
A hug concludes the small ceremony held on Parliament Hill. These two held their embrace for close to five minutes without shifting positions. A tableau of grief for those present to ponder. (Photo © Michael Edgar)
Children’s shoes line the path in front of the Peace Tower as a reminder for the lives lost in residential schools. These children were playing just steps from the vigil with their mother. (Photo © Michael Edgar)
A young girl wraps her arms around her mother as they both listen to a speaker at the "Remember Me" gathering. The speaker talked about children who were taken from their homes and died in residential schools. (Photo © Ariel Harker)
A man rests his hand on a woman's shoulder while an Indigenous speaker makes an emotional speech during the "Remember Me" gathering on Parliament Hill. (Photo © Ariel Harker)
J.P. Surette hugs his daughter, Abbelina, as they look at the memorial on Parliament Hill for Indigenous children who died at residential schools. (Photo © Ariel Harker)

A woman and her daughter speak to a member of the media during the "Remember Me" gathering on Parliament Hill. The event honoured children and families who were affected by residential schools and drew a strong media presence. (Photo © Ariel Harker)

Dawn Iehstóseranon:nha Setford (left, in black) speaks at the opening ceremony of the "Remember Me" gathering on Parliament Hill on Sept. 30. An interpreter translates her words to sign language. Setford is the founder and president of the Indigenous Arts Collective of Canada, who organized the event in memory of those who were affected by residential schools. (Photo © Ariel Harker)

A woman with a young child observes the memorial site on Parliament Hill in honour of the children who died at residential schools in Canada. The woman placed a small toy car among the shoes and handwritten signs. (Photo © Ariel Harker)

Rachèle Prud'homme attended the "Remember Me" gathering on Parliament Hill. Prud'homme, 70, is from Val-des-Monts, Quebec, and has Algonquin and French heritage. Prud'homme said she was feeling hopeful on the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, noting, "It's a day to come together". The news about residential school graves this summer impacted Canadians, said Prud'homme: "It has opened their eyes, their heart and their spirit." (Photo © Ariel Harker)
Joseph Monette, 59, drummed at the Remember Me gathering. Monette, whose spirit name is "Quiet Wolf", lives in Maniwaki, Quebec, and Ottawa, Ontario. He is a member of the Algonquin First Nation. The drum Monette brought to the gathering is special, and he only uses it for ceremonies. "It carries your spirit," he said. "It carries your emotions." (Photo © Ariel Harker)
A woman stands during the events of Confederation Park's ceremony for the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in Ottawa. (Photo © Emma Jackson)
"Mirana Zuger (left) and Nicole Zuger (right), daughter and mother, completed the tour at Beechwood Cemetery. “For me as a non-indigenous person (today is) to acknowledge the truth, work to understand and to share that truth,” Nicole says. “I learned to listen,” says Mirana, “And also to understand the impact of what it means to recognize these truths and actions that need to be taken moving forward, and as a public servant I understand that that is a responsibility that I carry in my daily work… today is a day of listening and learning, but it’s also a day of action — today and everyday.” (Photo © Melissa Marchewka)
"Deputy Grand Chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, Victor Linklater,speaks to the crowd at Beechwood Cemetery while dawning a mask that says “Every Child Matters” the ever-present slogan of this Truth and Reconciliation Day" (Photo © Melissa Marchewka)
Lucas Da Costa holds a homemade sign that sheds light on how important it is to recognize just how many children have been lost to the genocide that is the residential school system. "It's the truth," says Da Costa. (Photo © Erin Hood)
The number of deaths in residential schools may have exceeded 6,000 according to TRC Chair, Justice Murray Sinclair. Orange Shirt Day offers us a chance to reflect on these lost lives, and the survivors struggling with intergenerational trauma from these schools. One of many shirts supporting survivors on Parliament Hill. (Photo © Michael Edgar)

In preparation for the morning ceremonies for the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on Parliament Hill, orange flowers were placed on each chair in remembrance of the 215 Indigenous children who's unmarked graves were discovered on the site of Kamloops Indian Residential School earlier this year. (Photo © Kendra Dyer)

A volunteer prepares bundles of orange flowers for the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on Parliament Hill, 215 arrangements made to honour the 215 Indigenous children who's unmarked graves were found at the site of the Kamloops Indian Residential School. (Photo © Kendra Dyer)

Michelle O'Brien took a quiet moment away from the events in Confederation Park to read and reflect. O'Brien says it was nice to see the number of supporters at the events on Thursday. She had the day off as a federal employee, so she and her husband decided to go to the Remember Me: A National Day of Remembrance presentations and performances on Parliament Hill and Confederation Park. (Photo © Maryann Enns)
Catherine LaLonde wore a variety of Indigenous artist-made jewelry from Pass the Feather to Confederation Park for the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation. (Photo © Maryann Enns)
In the center of Confederation Park, at the entrance of the Remember Me: A National Day of Remembrance event, visitors were able to add their paint handprint to a plastic sheet. (Photo © Ariel Harker)
An orange ribbon flaps in the breeze, tied to the fence around Centennial Public School in Ottawa on Sept. 30. The ribbon is one of dozens that staff and students tied to the fence in June, after the remains of 215 children were found at the site of a former residential school in B.C.. (Photo © Ariel Harker)
The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation released this flag known as the Survivors flag. It represents the thoughts, emotions, experiences, and hopes expressed by survivors who have shared their truths about residential schools. On September 30th this flag blows in the wind at half-mast to show support to these peoples and mourn the loss of the children's graves that were and are still being discovered. (Photo © Erin Hood)
A mother fixes her daughter’s hair as a crowd sits in the sun at Confederation Park.” (Photo © Matias Bessai
A person overlooks the memorial at the Eternal Flame on Parliament Hill for the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, 30 September 2021. Surrounded with children's shoes, toys, and messages, this memorial remembers, and honours lost Indigenous children who did not survive residential schools, and its impacts on those who did. (Photo © Kendra Dyer)
Dozens of orange strips hang from a tree in front of St. Peter's Lutheran Church in Ottawa on Sept. 30. The strips were added in June after the graves of hundreds of residential school children were located using ground-penetrating radar. (Photo © Ariel Harker)
(Photo © Emma Jackson)

If you are a residential school survivor in distress, or have been affected by the residential school system and need help, you can contact the 24-hour Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419, or the Indian Residential School Survivors Society toll-free line at 1-800-721-0066.

Contributors: Matias Bessai, Natasha Bulowski, Kendra Dyer, Michael Edgar, Maryann Enns, Ariel Harker, Erin Hood, Emma Jackson, Melissa Marchewka, Tala Muhtadi, Cate Newman, Gillian Peebles, Ann Pill, Harriet Smith, Camille Vinet and Becca Weston.