I am honoured to be a contributor to Willowjak. My name is Marilyn and I identify with this blog in many ways. I am a parent of children on the Autism Spectrum. I advocate for children and adults with disabilities. I have dealt with and speak openly about my struggles with Anxiety and Depression. I am an Indigenous woman. I am an educator. I am an Ally to the LGBQT2S+ community.
I could write quite a few posts on any of these topics. But today I am writing with an Indigenous focus. September 30 is fast approaching. Orange Shirt Day. Maybe you’ve heard of it?
Orange Shirt Day was started by Phyllis Webstad. You can read her whole story here –
In summary, Orange Shirt Day was started to recognize the harm the Residential School system in Canada caused to Indigenous children.
Phyllis is a survivor of the residential school system – and like all children who attended residential schools, she has a story to tell. So she wrote hers. She had a beautiful orange shirt to wear to her first day of school. As soon as she arrived, it was taken from her (with all her other belongings) and she never saw it again. Hence, Orange Shirt Day.
I am a part of a beautiful faith community. I could fill another post simply by sharing what has been a life changing experience with them. But suffice to say, in that community I found a group of like minded individuals who were passionate about indigenous issues and reconciliation around residential schools and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
Last year this group dreamt, planned and organized a 2 day conference around Orange Shirt Day. It was well attended for our small town – and we had some great guest speakers and workshops.
This year we were geared up to do it all again – COVID hit. Everything we had started planning fell out from under us. But our wonderful chair of the group suggested we continue- virtually. So a new idea was born.
We started with weekly meetings online in April – the task seemed daunting. How would this work? Where would we get the technology to support this? Who would be willing to speak virtually? Slowly all those moving pieces fell into place.
We received grants and funding from various community organizations and of course from our Church – the United Church of Canada. The United Church was involved in residential schools and made an apology long before Canada’s apology. Since the TRC, the United Church of Canada has slowly worked towards reconciliation. Let me be clear – reconciliation is (in my opinion) not a goal line that we’ll reach someday. It’s a process and it’s making choices daily to stick to that process. There needs to be education and reflection and personal change and societal change. But that’s another whole blog post.
We approached our list of dream guest speakers – and were able to secure them all! We planned a kick off weekend with a concert and keynote speaker, followed by weekly webinars beginning on September 30- Orange Shirt Day.
We wanted to kick off the weekend with a concert. Twin Flames is an indigenous folk artist duo who have won multiple awards.
Travis Dugas Bellerose was our keynote speaker last year. He is back with us again this year, performing a traditional dance for our opening night.
Next we had big dreams for our keynote address on the opening weekend. Senator Murray Sinclair was involved in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and he agreed to be one of our Keynote Speakers.
Author Lee Maracle is our other keynote speaker. Lee had previously done a webinar in June with Murray Sinclair and was willing to do another one on Reconciliation with him.
Matthew Stevens is the Cultural Coordinator for the Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation– one of the First Nation communities local to us. He will be joined by Nimkii Osawamick, an award winning hoop dancer for a special webinar that will be informative and rich with cultural lessons.
Diane Montreuil will do a webinar on talking sticks. She is the traditional knowledge keeper and Elder for the Toronto Catholic District School Board.
Dr. Dan Longboat is an Associate Professor at Trent University. He will offer a vision of hope and healing for the future during his webinar.
We also have a Chef! Charles Catchpole will do a cooking demonstration for a traditional three course meal during his webinar. Registered ticket holders can get the ingredients ahead of time and cook along with him.
We needed a final speaker to close off the conference.
As an Indigenous Educator, I am honoured to be able to teach an indigenous voices English Literature program. I focus on indigenous authors and media in my course. Because of this position, I reached out to the superintendent of my program. I wanted his help promoting this conference. Instead of simply promoting, he wanted to get involved and cosponsor a speaker! As a group, we were thrilled. We reached out to our final speaker of choice – Jesse Thistle, author of “From The Ashes”. A short time later Jesse was on board for the conference as our closing speaker.
The entire event and dates can be found on eventbrite HERE:
Join us for this fantastic conference that goes from September 25 until October 28.
Together, we will learn so much!
I’m a Métis wife, mother, daughter, friend, teacher, and advocate. I love coffee and squirrels. I married my high school sweetheart and don’t know where I’d be without him. I’m a mama bear to two amazing sons with autism who teach me things every day. I struggle with anxiety and depression. I find joy in the little things in life. I discovered my Métis heritage in my 20s and have been learning about Indigenous traditions and issues since. Life has taken me on many twists and turns I never saw coming. I try to walk the path with Bravery and look to Love.