Indigenous activists mark Sept. 30 as Truth and Reconciliation Day on their calendars year-round, as it’s the one time a year where people pause to commemorate children who were victimized while attending residential schools across Canada.
“We all have stories that have brought us here – together,” says Chantal Stormsong Changon, a Cree woman from Calgary who has witnessed first-hand the injustice faced by Indigenous communities.
“And the governments need to start recognizing that and recognizing that colonization has been the issue, but it’s also the glue that’s kind of brought us all together to recognize that we are all the same. We’re all fighting against the patriarchy.”
Even though Truth and Reconciliation Day is recognized by the federal government as a stationary holiday, the province of Alberta does not. As a result, Indigenous activists are fighting for Alberta to do so and for Indigenous rights to be acknowledged all year long.
As a child growing up in an Indigenous family, Changon struggled with her own cultural identity as she would be treated indifferently compared to others due to her Indigenous roots.
Based on her own personal experience, Chantal knew that something needed to change and that this form of disrespect needed to be stopped.
For 30 years, she has dedicated herself to learning about acts of injustice happening not only in Canada but all over the world, and thought she could be that voice for the voiceless and stand up for others who are too afraid to speak for themselves.
Despite facing adversity, Chantal takes delight in educating others about Indigenous culture and traditions.
When acknowledging the impact of years of mistreatment and disrespect towards the Indigenous community, Changon takes pleasure in creating workshops that are open to the public, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous.
“I think it’s really important to recognize that we’re all Indigenous to somewhere and unfortunately, there are people that had settler’s move in on their land,” Changon said.
“They feel disconnected from their own Indigenous roots, whether that be in Europe, or whether that be parts of Asia or other parts of the world.”
Cheryl Ann Oberg, who works at the Alberta Children’s Hospital as a therapeutic clown, first learned about Chantal Changon’s workshops through her niece and has always been interested in learning more about her Indigenous background.
“My family is Metis and many of us never had that opportunity to learn about our heritage,” Oberg said. “As I continue to attend these workshops, I’m exploring bit by bit to learn more about Indigenous heritage.”
Oberg encourages everyone to participate in not only in Changon’s workshops, but others like them, as they aim to educate those in attendance on traditional Indigenous customs.
It’s just reaffirming who they are and where their family came from. For those people have never experienced anything indigenous. It’s a wonderful learning opportunity for families to come out and learn together. – Cheryl Ann Oberg
Brenda Lasiuk, a woman who recently attended Changon’s workshops, says she wasn’t always proud of her Metis heritage and from a young age she carried that shame with her.
But now after attending these workshops ,she couldn’t be any happier to be Metis.
“It’s the older generations that are carrying any leftover shame,” she said. “But I think by attending and learning the culture,you think `wow, this is really good. I really enjoy it. I’m so glad I’m a part of this.’
“Like, I don’t feel that shame anymore.”
Lasiuk says the workshops provide a valuable opportunity for the next generation of Indigenous youth to learn about their Indigenous roots and grow to love themselves.