COCHRANE— Hosting a conversation centred on sharing Indigenous experiences, a vigil was held at the Jack Tennant Memorial Bridge on Canada Day to honour the recent unmarked graves found at Residential Schools across Canada.
A group of more than 100 people, many wearing orange shirts, gathered at the bridge at 9:30 p.m. Thursday (July 1) to witness the bridge lights turn orange in honour of the children found at unmarked graves at former Residential Schools across the country.
Organizer Teresa Snow said the vigil at the Jack Tennant Memorial Bridge was an overwhelming experience.
“I didn’t think there were going to be that many people. I was overwhelmed and happy to see that many people come out, support and be willing to stay up late … My heart was full,” Snow said. “We wanted to have a space to talk and have dialogue.”
Snow said the idea behind the event was born from a post on the popular Facebook page Cochrane AB Rants and Raves. The post sparked a conversation and led to a collaboration with the Cochrane Integrated Arts Society who helped work with the Town of Cochrane and Mayor Jeff Genung to see the bridge lit up in orange.
The vigil served as an opportunity to share stories, acknowledge the lingering trauma of Residential Schools and talk about how to move forward as a community and a nation by embracing acts of Reconciliation.
“People were open to listening and hearing our stories, our truth, our awareness and how to do things in a way that is helpful and doesn’t hinder us,” Snow said. “It showed the kindness and compassion of humans. We want to be friends, and work together and talk together.”
The vigil served to foster community connections and bring together people looking to learn more about the Indigenous way of life and experience.
Snow said she appreciated allies coming forward to learn more about Indigenous culture and share in the grief of learning about the unmarked graves.
“They had an open mind and an open heart,” she said.
Snow spoke at the vigil with the goal of ensuring people had space to speak and build a better future for younger generations. She explained generations of trauma will take generations of healing.
“You can read so many reports, do so many inquiries, but, until you actually do something with them and implement them [change is not possible],” Snow said.
As an example, Snow highlighted the experience of birth alerts many Indigenous mothers can face, along with the normalization of abuse and violence toward Indigenous women and men, the ongoing Missing and Murdered Indigenous and Women and Girls crisis, the 60s Scoop and stereotypes many Indigenous people face in centres like Canmore or Cochrane.
“That’s the things we need to stop and our people need to speak up about it,” Snow said. “But, those who do speak up get silenced.”
Snow said she hopes to see the momentum created by the vigil continue to grow and other similar events take place in the community. She added these dialogues are addressing current concerns and racism to ensure it is does not happen in the future.
Snow said people have been inspired to push for change and she is hoping to ensure that the spark of Reconciliation remains in society.
“We still have to move forward— We have to continue this work,” Snow said. “I’m doing this for my grandson so he doesn’t have to face racism when he goes to school ... I want him to be an independent young man in society and to be seen as that— Not to be stereotyped.”
Cochrane Integrated Arts Society president Jane Kaczmer connected with Snow through Facebook to help organize the vigil.
Kaczmer said it was inspiring to see how the vigil was able to build bridges in the community. Those in attendance spanned every age group creating a cross-section of people in a sea of orange shirts.
“It was thoughtful and caring and reaching out to people you don’t know,” Kaczmer said.
The arts often capture the zeitgeist of culture, Kaczmer said, and can create a safe space for conversations, like the discussions about Residential Schools.
Kaczmer was amazed at the number of people who attended the vigil and the absolute respect shown to all participants.
“People came because they wanted this. This is important and they knew it— There was a lot of patience and caring,” Kaczmer said. “It was really, really positive.”
She added the vigil marks the beginning of a major movement and it is exciting to see where it is going.
She appreciated the wide variety of people who spoke up to share their knowledge and ask meaningful questions that shed light on Residential Schools and the resiliency of survivors.
“It’s tragic finding the evidence of the children who passed away. But, the fact that we have found them now is making people sit up and listen, care, acknowledge and want to do something. Now we can actually move forward,” Kaczmer said.
She hopes to continue forging ahead with the positive and seeking to create active change in the community.
Stoney Nakoda First Nation member Travis Rider spoke at the vigil calling for unity, compassion and understanding.
Rider highlighted the important place and history the Stoney Nakoda First Nation has in the Cochrane area.
He said it was an interesting experience to see the community rally together for the vigil and make space to listen and learn from Stoney Nakoda First Nation members.
The event marked an important opportunity and a shift toward building stronger bonds between the communities.
For non-Indigenous allies Rider encouraged them to speak with MLAs and push to ensure Indigenous voices, needs and experiences are heard. He added he is hopeful grassroots action will lead to meaningful change in the community in the coming years.
“Hopefully [people took away] an understanding from an Indigenous viewpoint. It can start a change in people and a self-reflection of changing their views and bias on Indigenous people,” Rider said. “I hope that instead of just talking about Truth and Reconciliation, that we see a change in behaviour.”