Cape Breton University has announced their commitment to participate in the Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack Legacy Room Project and honor Residential School survivors on Friday, September 29, in an event hosted by the CBU Library at 10 a.m.
As part of Orange Shirt Day: Every Child Matters, the event will serve to recognize the wrongs of the past and honor survivors with the creation of a Legacy Room, where the community will have the opportunity to learn the story of Chanie Wenjack, the history he represents, and be inspired to act in the name of reconciliation. The goal of creating these rooms is to help the healing process through a combination of awareness and education.
“We are humbled to be a part of a project that is so deeply impactful for the community,” says Dr. Dale Keefe, President. “Cape Breton University values the relationship with First Nation communities immensely and we are committed to doing what we can to play a role in reconciliation.”
CBU will be the first organization in Unama’ki (Cape Breton) to participate in the project by announcing their plan to open a room in the coming months. With a commitment of $25,000 ($5,000 year for the next 5 years) the Legacy Room will built in the CBU Library and display items from residential schools.
“On behalf of myself and the Downie Wenjack Fund, I am very honoured and proud to hear that Cape Breton University is taking the lead today to become the first in Unama’ki to participate in the Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack Legacy Room Project,” says Chief Morley Googoo, Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief and Board Member of the Downie Wenjack Fund. “I want to congratulate the University for creating safe places for dialog, to learn about reconciliation, history, our present, and our future. It is important for us to all be proactive in writing the narrative for our Indigenous people in Canada. It is partners like Cape Breton University and spaces like the one you are committing to create today, that will allow all Canadians of all nationalities to talk about reconciliation and to turn reconciliation into action.”
The event featured drumming, singing and remarks from Michael R. Denny, of Eskasoni and Associate Vice-President, Indigenous Affairs and Unama’ki College and Hereditary Chief of the Mi’kmaq Grand Council, Stephen Augustine.
The Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund is part of Gord Downie’s legacy and embodies his commitment, and that of his family, to improving the lives of First Peoples. The Fund operates out of the Toronto Foundation is a project of the Tides Canada Shared Platform. The Fund is focused on cross-cultural education to support healing and recovery. Chanie Wenjack, an Anishinaabe boy from Ontario, ran away from his residential school near Kenora at age 12, and subsequently died from hunger and exposure to the harsh weather.
Orange Shirt Day: Every Child Matters was born out of the St. Joseph Mission residential school commemoration held in Williams Lake, British Columbia in 2013. It grew out of a story of about a six-year-old girl named Phyllis who had her new orange shirt taken away from her on the first day of school at the Mission. It has become an opportunity to acknowledge the harm that Canada’s residential school system has caused to generations of Indigenous families and keep the discussion on reconciliation going annually. The time at the end of September was chosen as the time of year to hold Orange Shirt Day events because it coincides with the time of year in which children were taken from their homes to residential schools. This time of year is also seen as an opportune time to set the stage for anti-racism and anti-bullying policies for the coming school year.