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Hay River has joined communities across Canada in trying to come to grips with the tragic discovery of the remains of 215 young people at a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.

Among a number of remembrance events in Hay River was a smudging ceremony and prayer song at Soaring Eagle Friendship Centre on June 4.

Sharon Caudron helped perform the smudging ceremony, which was attended by about 50 people.

“It’s a cleansing ceremony,” she said. “It’s to remove all the negative things that might be stuck to you or hanging on to you, to help you have fresh eyes and fresh ears and just to connect yourself back to your heart again.”

Caudron believes the smudging ceremony was important for Hay River because of the devastating news from Kamloops.

“You think about the ancestors and now we’re talking about little small ones,” she said. “Those are dear to anybody’s heart.”

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Caudron noted the discovery in Kamloops is affecting people all across the land.

She performed the smudging ceremony with her fan made of eagle feathers.

After the ceremony, people gathered outside Soaring Eagle Friendship Centre to listen to drumming and a prayer song by Roy Fabian and Frank Fabian from K’atlodeeche First Nation (KFN).

Prior to the drumming, Roy Fabian, a former chief of KFN, called for more investigations at the sites of former residential schools across Canada.

“We had a residential school over on the reserve and that needs to be done here, as well,” he said.

Fabian also reflected on the effects of colonization.

“As Indigenous people, we suffer a lot because of colonization,” he said. “People didn’t believe we were human. And so in that light they did some very atrocious things.”

The former chief noted that Indigenous people are still suffering across Canada, pointing to foster care, alcohol and drug abuse, and missing and murdered women and girls.

Many of the problems are the result of residential schools, he said. “And we need to think about all those things.”

Dene people have their own ways of healing, Fabian said. “And I think this is a really good opportunity for us as Dene people today to take a look at our healing process that our people used to carry out.”

Fabian called for healing to start.

“This healing needs to begin here in this community,” he said. “Not somewhere else. Not in Kamloops or in Ottawa. Here, right here. We need it to happen right here.”

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