Water plays central role in M’Chigeeng National Day of Reconciliation observances

Barb MacIntyre, Martina Migwans, Pat Migwans, Sheila Eshquib, Pearl Debassige, May Migwans, Andralene and Raven White marked the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in their own way. photos by Alicia McCutcheon

M’CHIGEENG – A group of women, led by elder Pat Migwans, walked from the highway in from M’Chigeeng First Nation’s eastern border, ending at the community beach at West Bay in honour of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

“I’d been thinking about it,” said Ms. Migwans when reflecting on the first annual holiday for Truth and Reconciliation and what could be done to mark it. “I decided to walk into the reserve, significant of bringing the children home.” Before the women set off, they lit a sacred fire on the beach.

Ms. Migwans, two of her sisters, her granddaughter and some family friends walked from the M’Chigeeng border, down the hill and ended at the beach, all sporting orange shirts and flags bearing the ‘Every Child Matters’ rallying theme.

Ms. Migwans said it was important to end the walk at the water because “water is life,” but also because, specifically for those children taken from Island First Nations to residential schools, water often played a key part in coming home, either by boat or by ice for those who dared to try an escape. She recalled the stories of those children who dared flee in wintertime and who did not make it home, slipping through the ice before seeing their families again.

Ms. Migwans dipped a flag carrying the colours of the four directions into West Bay during a solemn ceremony, signifying “we are still living here, as one,” Ms. Migwans said.

Pearl Debassige said she felt as though she was going to cry during her walk in, feeling the presence of children with her, as though she was bringing them home.

Barb MacIntyre was also on the walk. Her mother, age 93, is a residential school survivor of the school for girls at Spanish. While her mother left Spanish relatively unscathed, she witnessed a lot that has stayed with her, her daughter shared.

“Every step I took felt like a step for every child who didn’t make it home—today was a good day,” Martine Mandamin added. “I hope to see it continue.”

Ms. Migwans planned to hold a walk from each of M’Chigeeng’s borders in the coming days in an attempt “to make people aware that it’s not only September 30 that we should be reminded about Truth and Reconciliation.”

See pages 13, 15 and 19 for more National Day for Truth and Reconciliation stories and photos.

Walkers travelled along the highway through M’Chigeeng First Nation and ended up at the community beach.