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Winnipeg turns orange for National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

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More than 5,000 people flooded downtown Winnipeg Saturday as a sea of orange marched from The Forks to Canada Life Centre to mark the third-annual National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

The federal statutory holiday acknowledges the immediate and generational impact of residential schools, but is not yet recognized as a stat holiday in Manitoba.

Speaking at the Oodena Celebration Circle at The Forks Saturday morning, Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Cathy Merrick compelled the crowd to understand and reflect upon the events of the past.

“We talk about truth and reconciliation. It’s been talked about. It’s time to implement and we need to understand what it means,” she said. “And today the government does not understand what reconciliation means to our people.”

Later at Canada Life Centre Pine Creek First Nation Chief Derek Nepinak shared what the day meant to him.

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“I’m here today because my mom survived the beatings when she spoke her language at the school. I’m here today because my mom survived the abuse that she experienced in the school, and her mom, and her grandpa, all the way back to the early 1900s,” he told the crowd.

Manitoba NDP leader Wab Kinew addressed the arena crowd, opening with greetings in six Indigenous languages.

“Every time you dance at a powwow, every time you sing, every time you speak your language, you prove that the architects of the residential school era failed in their quest to destroy our cultures,” he said, which was met with roaring applause.

During his remarks at the gathering, Southern Chiefs Organization Grand Chief Jerry Daniels endorsed Wab Kinew to be the next premier, calling the Fort Rouge candidate part of “Team Manitoba.”

Elsewhere, Progressive Conservative party leader Heather Stefanson marked the day at Gambler First Nation in western Manitoba, where she committed to improving services and economic partnerships.

Merrick said she wants to see the day become a statutory holiday in Manitoba, which Kinew committed to if his party is elected the government after the Oct. 3 provincial election.

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“A stat holiday would be another step toward reconciliation,” he said.

Contrasting the march and boisterous speeches downtown, a sacred fire burned at Assiniboine Park while groups wearing orange shirts sat quietly to reflect.

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“We have rallies, we have marches, we have fires, we meet in the spaces that are sacred. But the fire is the one thing that keeps all people together,” said firekeeper Cree Crowchild.

“The sacred fire allows us to have people come here to be humble and to have humility.”

— with files from the Canadian Press, Katherine Dornian and Arsalan Saeed