Looking out at a crowd speckled with orange T-shirts, Darcy Turning Robe leads a song guided by the rhythmic beat of drums on the green grounds of Fort Calgary.
More than 200 people were gathered Tuesday to take part in the13th annual walk of reconciliation to mark National Indigenous Peoples Day.
Turning Robe, who is Blackfoot and from Siksika First Nation east of Calgary, has been singing for over 20 years. He said the significance of being able to sing on this day in his own language — a privilege robbed of those who attended residential schools — is emblematic of the long journey this province’s Indigenous people have walked.
“The most important thing is these songs that we’re singing outlasted many travesties in the nations,” he said.
“There was a breakdown. There was a time when we couldn’t celebrate. But we came back with these songs.”
Tuesday’s event was organized by Calgary’s Walk for Reconciliation Committee, which includes the Trellis Society, the Aboriginal Friendship Centre of Calgary, Fort Calgary, Alberta Health Services and Rise Calgary.
The committee said the walk is an opportunity to reflect on the difficult history and atrocities of residential schools in Canada, the legacies of survivors, and how society can move forward. It began in 2009 to commemorate then prime minister Stephen Harper’s formal apology to the survivors of residential schools.
Participants walked Tuesday morning from the Harry Hays Building along the RiverWalk to Fort Calgary, where they were met with a program full of performances and speakers.
Patricia Akachuk, who is Piikani, said her mother, siblings and grandparents attended residential school. For her, the walk was a chance to show her support for what they went through.
“I’m honouring them by walking for them … I felt it was giving me peace.”
She said that celebrating National Indigenous Peoples Day is important because of the recognition it brings to the memory of families like hers, and the awareness it spreads to those who remain unaware of the history of Indigenous people in this country.
Karen Hunt, who isn’t Indigenous, decided to take part in the walk in order to learn more about what Indigenous people in Alberta have gone through.
“I work with a lot of indigenous people. For me, it’s about [a] show of respect for them,” said Hunt.
“It warmed my heart that I was able to be involved in [this], that I was able to have that opportunity.”
Charlotte YellowHorn McLeod, who has been on the organizing committee of the walk since its inception, said the event has become bigger each year. She’s particularly glad to see not only more young people show up but to have more non-Indigenous participants.
“The settlers have come out, they’re standing shoulder to shoulder with us so that we all come out in a better way,” said McLeod.
Turning Robe agreed.
“Our culture is one to be shared,” he said, encouraging people to not only join next year’s walk but to take part in other events happening this week.
June 19-25 is Aboriginal Awareness Week in Calgary.
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