Joe Tambour, an elder with K’atlodeeche First Nation, performs a drum song on Sept. 30 – Orange Shirt Day – at a gathering to remember the children of St. Peter’s Mission School, which operated on what is now the Hay River Reserve until 1937.
Paul Bickford/NNSL photo

A special ceremony was held on the Hay River Reserve on Sept. 30 – Orange Shirt Day – at the site where a residential school once stood.

About 30 people gathered at an Old Village monument – a pavilion topped by a bell from the residential school that people can ring in remembrance.

The ceremony was being held for the first time for Orange Shirt Day.

That is a national observance during which people in schools and elsewhere wear orange shirts to remember and honour the students in the residential school system.

St. Peter’s Mission School was operated by the Anglican Church on what is now the Hay River Reserve from 1893 to 1937, and children were brought there from many other communities.

“I wanted to bring everyone together, including all the kids, to know the history of why this (monument) was built,” said Chief April Martel of K’atlodeeche First Nation, which previously constructed the pavilion.

“Residential school is such an impact to our people, our identity, our culture and the young people back in the day,” she said. “There are some people that are survivors of residential school that are standing here today. This is for you guys, too. I thought about it for a long time that we need to utilize this land, what was built here, for our children to know what residential school is.”

Martel invited students from Chief Sunrise Education Centre to ring the bell atop the pavilion.

KFN elder Joe Tambour performed drum songs during the remembrance ceremony.

“When we think about those people that passed on, the K’atlodeeche First Nation took it upon themselves to build this to remember them, and we do that,” said Tambour, who added that the spirits of children who died at the residential school will always be at the site.

Martel said it is hoped that the ceremony at the pavilion will become an annual event for Orange Shirt Day.

Paul Bickford

Paul Bickford is the reporter for Hay River Hub.

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