Friday is National Truth and Reconciliation Day, also known as Orange Shirt Day. Public schools, Mount Allison University, and all government offices will be closed to mark the day.
At Fort Folly First Nation, knowledge keeper and Mi’kmaq cultural coordinator Nicole Porter has put together an opportunity for area residents to learn about Truth and Reconciliation, and to honour the Indigenous children who suffered and even died in Canada’s residential schools.
Porter says she has long admired the hay bale bears put together by Matt Beal, of High Tide Homestead and Cattle Company. Porter says she thought to herself, “wouldn’t it be nice if we could have something like that, a big teddy bear, to honour the children that went to residential school, but they never made it home?”
Porter approached Beal, and the result is sitting near the Gitpu Gas Station at Cherry Burton Road and the 106: the Every Child Matters Bear.
Hear Nicole Porter talking about the bear on CHMA’s Tantramar Report:
About three large bales tall, the bear is wearing an orange shirt with the words “Every Child Matters” written on the front. Porter says the bear is an opportunity honour and cherish the children lost to the residential school system, and to raise awareness of a history that is still being learned and understood by Canadians.
“It’s special to see this teddy bear with an orange shirt, to see people even wearing an orange shirt. That just shows that they understand this part of history, and they’re starting to understand the truth,” says Porter. “I just want to raise that awareness, and make sure it’s out there for people to visually see and stop and question: What happened? Why orange? And, you know, I believe this teddy bear is a perfect opportunity for this education to be spread among the public.”
On Friday, Porter’s son Zachary, who is a fire keeper, will light a sacred fire, and people are invited to come offer prayer.
“A fire for the Indigenous people is a way to offer our prayers of healing,” says Porter. “Then they are sent off to the Creator to be answered. And so we can let any hurt go by offering this tobacco to the fire.”
Porter will also be on hand to speak with anyone interested in learning about Orange Shirt Day, and the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation. Porter is used to sharing knowledge. She works with Tantramar area schools sharing Mi’kmaq culture with students. She says “it’s amazing” that the Higgs government has declared National Day of Truth and Reconciliation day a provincial holiday, so more people will have time to learn about it.
Porter is inviting everyone to visit the Every Child Matters Bear and the sacred fire on Friday between 10am and 2pm. “It’s just drop in,” says Porter. “Very casual. If you plan on staying longer, bring a chair, sit up around the fire. We’ll just, you know, hang out, talk, chat and mingle.”
For those looking for orange shirts to wear on Friday, the Gitpu Gas Station beside the bear has a supply of Every Child Matters shirts available for sale.