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Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Sarah Downey and Elder Little Brown Bear tying ribbons to sweat lodge

Michael Garron Hospital honours Canada’s first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation with sacred fire at the Bear’s Den All Nations Sweat Lodge

Michael Garron Hospital (MGH) and members of the Aboriginal Healing Program marked a historic day in East Toronto on Sept. 30; the team hosted a sacred fire at the Bear’s Den All Nations Traditional Medicine Sweat Lodge in honour of Canada’s first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation.

Elder Little Brown Bear, Director of Aboriginal Education, Programs and Culture and The Aboriginal Healing Program, led four pipe ceremonies throughout the day, with a special event at 12 p.m.

Community members gathered safely to reflect upon and commemorate the legacy of residential schools, murdered and missing First Nation, Métis and Inuit women and girls, and to become more aware of collective responsibilities to Truth and Reconciliation.

Sarah Downey, President and CEO, welcomed East Toronto community members with opening remarks and a reading of MGH’s pledge and commitment to Truth and Reconciliation. Elder Little Brown Bear offered a blessing and pipe ceremony, followed by a special address from The Honourable Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario.

Pipe Ceremony led by Elder Little Brown Bear

A day of reflection: Looking back and moving forward with meaningful action

Although Canadians continue to work towards Truth and Reconciliation with Aboriginal communities for past injustices and crimes, there is still much work to do. In order to move forward, Canadians must listen, understand and acknowledge the past injustices and harms of Our First peoples and work together to take meaningful action.

“I encourage everyone to take action, as the change needs to come from each and every one of us,” says Sarah.

Michael Garron Hospital is taking this challenge to heart. In collaboration with Elder Little Brown Bear and community, we created a collective pledge as a sign of deep commitment to Truth and Reconciliation.”

Sarah Downey in front of Truth and Reconciliation Pledge board

Elder Little Brown Bear asked everyone to show their commitment to action by practicing the three C’s: Communication, Compromise and Commitment.

“My heart grieves for the past, but my heart also sings knowing the support we have from each and every one of you,” says Elder Little Brown Bear.

Community engagement: Collective action and supportive allies

As part of the event, community members were invited to sign the MGH pledge board and tie an orange ribbon to acknowledge the unmarked graves of those children not yet recovered on the properties of government funded Indian Residential Schools across Canada.

Dr. DaCosta tying ribbon on sweat lodge

Denise, a member of the East Toronto community, shared her pledge to be an ally and live by example for the next generation. She revealed that her commitment was to actively educate her children and provide opportunities outside the school system to bring as much awareness as possible about Canadian and Indigenous history, culture and practices.

“I thought the best way to do this was to be here,” says Denise.

“Having my son be connected to and engaging with other communities, by attending in-person and being present.”

Members of the Aboriginal community shared their sorrow about the past injustices that their community faced but also expressed their appreciation to the community for coming together for the sacred fire.

“This day means so much because so much has been lost,” says Ashley Aseltine, who is part- Métis.

I am learning my culture and heritage, with my son. A lot has come to light about my history. There’s been a huge gap, with loss of our home, family, and ancestors. This event is very healing for our community. It makes the Indigenous people and community feel represented.”

An Indigenous woman who wished to remain anonymous shared, “It’s been a long time waiting, with empty graves that have no names. It’s nice to see everybody is acknowledging it now.” Her friend also mentioned, “It was amazing to see the community come together today. It was inspirational to see that people care.”

MGH and community members extend their heartfelt gratitude to the many staff, volunteers and community members who came together in solidarity to participate in the event, tie an orange ribbon, present tobacco and cedar into the sacred fire, smudge and sign the pledge to demonstrate the power of community to honour the spirit of reconciliation every day.

Learn more about MGH’s sacred fire on Canada’s first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation.

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