BRACEBRIDGE, ONT. -- As the country acknowledged National Indigenous Peoples Day, there was a large gathering in Bracebridge, Ont. in honour of the lives lost through Canada's residential school system.

This year what is typically a day to celebrate culture and heritage, comes just weeks after the remains of 215 children were found at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.

"Everybody needs to know about the history of residential schools," says Gaya'dowehs, whose friend is a survivor of the school system and spoke at Monday's ceremony. "Everybody should acknowledged genocide occurred to indigenous families."

The gathering was held at Bracebridge's Memorial Park in the city's downtown core, where 215 hand-painted signs were scattered throughout, each in honour of the lives lost in Kamloops, B.C.

Douglas Pawis, a traditional elder who spoke at the gathering, says the community needs to hear an apology from the Catholic church, acknowledging its role in facilitating the residential schools for decades.

"The government has made their part and done their part so far, but they have to work with us to get a better understanding instead of learning it on their own," says Pawis.

Also in attendance at Monday's ceremony was Karihwakeron Thompson, who had 10 family members attend Canada's residential school system. His uncle suffered a serious brain injury when he was pushed down the stairs while at school, something that left him with the mental acuity of a 10 to 12-year-old.

"He thought if no one else could look after him, don't send me to residential school, and he'd cry about it, and this was a man in his 50s, late 50s, early 60s. That's how much it haunted him," Thompson says.

Thompson says today serves as an important opportunity to strengthen relationships between Indigenous people and the rest of the country. He is optimistic about the growing interest to learn since the Kamloops discovery.

"Sure, it's frustrating to always have to educate," Thompson says. "But it's good to see more happening, so I think we have to be encouraged by this."

The signs in Bracebridge will move throughout the community over the week to raise as much awareness as possible. They will be moved to Hanna Park in Port Carling on Tuesday, then other areas across Muskoka from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. for the remainder of the week.


If you are a former residential school student in distress, or have been affected by the residential school system and need help, you can contact the 24-hour Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419.

Additional mental-health support and resources for Indigenous people are available here.