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Ceremonies held at UW to mark Truth and Reconciliation Day

Saturday will mark the third National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in Canada.

It’s a time to remember Indigenous children who died while being forced to attend residential schools.

On Friday, the University of Waterloo held a ceremony honouring the lives lost, as well as those who survived and are still affected by the lasting trauma.

The day started with a sunrise ceremony followed by a polishing ceremony, a feast, a circle dance and a walk around Ring Road.

“I can’t even tell you what it means to me personally, but also to our community to have the opportunity to be here fully ourselves,” Jean Becker, associate vice-president, Indigenous Relations for the University of Waterloo said.

“The students here want to know something that they didn’t know before and they’re demanding this. So I think we’re happy that this generation is probably going to make some big differences that previous ones hadn’t,” Myeengun Henry, Indigenous knowledge keeper at the University of Waterloo said.

It was the second time the school has hosted the event, saying it is part of their work to try and understand Canada’s true history and for all of the community to get involved. The university said it represents a form of public commemoration and acknowledgement of the tragic and painful history and intergenerational trauma caused by Canada’s residential school system. It is also meant to recommit to reconciliation in recognition of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

“I think there is much greater awareness, first of all with the opportunities. There’s much more support being made available including events such like this, so that our prospective students can see that they are going to be welcome,” Vivek Goel, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Waterloo said.

The university is making changes to the curriculum and providing additional supports for Indigenous students and plans to build a learning centre, so education and awareness can continue year-round.

“We’ll have a gathering space and a purpose built gathering space,” Becker said.

Members of the Indigenous community said there is still a lot of work to be done.

“This is the Haldimand Tract that we’re on. I would venture that not very many people know that, and they don’t know what it means,” Becker said.

“Tons of work to do, we’re at the beginning stages. But at least we have the foundation in place,” Henry said.

The day also included a feast, circle dance and a walk around ring road.

Students at the event said it was an eye opening experience to learn more about Indigenous culture and history in Canada.

“I learned a lot about the history about all the stories behind that. I didn’t have the t-shirt, the orange t-shirt, I didn’t know that,” Taghi Badakhshan, a University of Waterloo student from Iran.

“I have the orange shirt, but I didn’t know the symbolism behind it. It was also nice to hear some of the traditional singing and drums ceremonies,” Indrani Ray, a University of Waterloo student from the United States.

According to Becker, the number of Indigenous students at the university is growing. She said about 182 students self-identified as Indigenous at the university in 2020. This year, there is around 289.

“So, we’re hoping that many more of our students will come forward and we can connect with them,” Becker said. Top Stories

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