Walk for Reconciliation Touches the Heart of Downtown Vancouver

The event was followed by speeches from Mayor Robertson, Premier Horgan, and National Chief Perry Bellegarde, among others

September 24th’s Walk for Reconciliation began at the Queen Elizabeth Plaza in Downtown Vancouver, and featured speeches and musical performances. (Ashley Hyshka)

Tens of thousands of people marched from the Queen Elizabeth Theatre to Strathcona Park, a distance of two kilometers, in the Walk for Reconciliation on Sept. 24.

The event was an effort to better relationships between Indigenous people and all Canadians. The organizers of the Walk also hoped to raise awareness of the goals set out by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and to honour survivors of, and those who died in, Canada’s residential schools.

Deborah Stewart, one of the lead marchers in the Reconciliation Walk, said that she hopes the Walk helped people learn about healing.

“My mom went to residential school for 12 years,” Stewart said at the event. “She has a lot of healing to do.”

At Strathcona Park the walkers began taking part in the Reconciliation Expo, which hosted several high-profile speakers, musicians, Bhangra dancers, singers, and artists. Musqueam Nation Chief Wayne Sparrow and the Minister of Justice and Attorney General Jodi Wilson-Raybould were the first to take to the stage.

“I wish CNN was here to see what Trump’s doing to the U.S.,” said Chief Sparrow. “He’s separating them. Our government is bringing everyone together.”

Wilson-Raybould commented on the “substantive role” that the federal government plays in achieving reconciliation. She said that people need to steer away from conflict and protests and refocus on partnership and cooperation with their Indigenous counterparts to achieve this goal, adding that both sides “have a lot of incredible work to do.”

Afterwards, several high-profile guests took part in a traditional blanketing ceremony of the Coast Salish people. According to Chief Campbell, wrapping the blankets around one another is symbolic of embracing each other with love, honour, and respect.

“No one here in Canada may have had a direct hand in that dark chapter of our shared history, and maybe no one here today had any connection at all to the residential schools, or even that Indian Act,” said National Chief Perry Bellegarde of the Assembly of First Nations. “But you can all still play an important role in rebuilding our shared future.”

Chief Bellegarde encouraged attendees to forget preconceived notions about First Nations people, and told everyone they can help by “challenging prejudices when you see it, racism when you see it, discrimination when you see it, and by not accepting the status quo.”

Premier of British Columbia John Horgan and Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Scott Fraser took to the stage together.

“Thousands of people, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, standing together is a demonstration of true reconciliation,” said Premier Horgan. “The new government accepts and embraces the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.”

Tens of thousands of people marched through the streets of Downtown Vancouver during the 2017 Walk for Reconciliation. (Ashley Hyshka)

“We have a chance to atone for past wrongs,” added Fraser. “We have the chance right now to make reconciliation a reality.”

A few of the speakers choked back tears as they addressed the crowd. The pain of those in attendance, on and off the stage, was palpable—but more powerful was the feeling of hope.

Chief Robert Joseph, Ambassador for Reconciliation Canada, and Liana Martin, a Councilor for the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation, were the final speakers at the event.

“As a survivor of residential schools, I never knew that anybody cared. I never knew that … people of other colours could care,” said Chief Joseph. “We had waited, some of us, for a lifetime for somebody to validate the things we had always known.”

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson announced that the Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh, and Musqueam First Nations flags will be displayed inside of Vancouver’s council chambers, and that Queen Elizabeth Theatre and the Vancouver Art Gallery will be renamed to honour B.C.’s Indigenous people.