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City council opens meeting with tribute to residential school victims

Mayor Steve Clarke, Rama Chief Ted Williams talk about importance of building relationships, acknowledging hardships
2021-06-07 Orillia city council anthem
Monday's Orillia city council meeting began with a rendition of O Canada as performed by Don Amero during a recent NHL game in recognition of the 215 children whose remains were recently found on the ground of a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C. Rama Chief Ted Williams, top left, took part in that portion of the meeting.

Monday’s city council meeting got off to a heavy start as the city acknowledged the recent discovery of the remains of 215 children at a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.

Council invited Chippewas of Rama First Nation Chief Ted Williams to take part in the opening of the meeting.

“Our hearts go out to the survivors of residential schools and to the families that have lost some of these children — many, if not all, still yet to be identified,” said Mayor Steve Clarke.

The mayor had been moved by Don Amero’s performance of O Canada at a recent game between the Montreal Canadiens and Winnipeg Jets. Amero is an Indigenous singer-songwriter from Winnipeg who, following a tribute to those whose bodies were found in B.C., performed a sombre rendition of the often triumphant-sounding national anthem.

City council opted to open Monday’s meeting with Amero’s version. That was followed by two minutes and 15 seconds of silence to honour the 215 children, and then a land acknowledgement by Clarke.

Indigenous communities, especially Rama, “shaped the city’s unique identity” with their cultures and way of life, he said, adding the city is “committed to helping our community understand, honour and take action toward real truth and real reconciliation.”

Williams thanked the city for the “excellent choice” for Monday’s anthem.

“Miigwetch for that,” he said.

He also said he was thankful for the relationship Rama has with Orillia, and he noted he has many friends and family members who live in Orillia.

He recalled being bused into town as a kid, with others from Rama, to attend David H. Church Public School.

“We had our challenging times and our challenging moments as we went to school,” the chief said.

“The children were less than welcoming at the time. We had our differences and we fought about those differences, but we learned how to get along.”

That was the most important part, he added.

“It’s all about relationships and building relationships.”

Clarke acknowledged his own ignorance of the struggles faced over the years by Indigenous peoples. While he noted he is a formally and informally educated man, there was plenty he didn’t know.

“I remain embarrassed about the lack of knowledge I had about Indigenous issues,” he said.

“I didn’t know the gap was so wide until I came to office.”

The discovery of the bodies in Kamloops “brought back a lot of anguish, grief, pain” for many, Williams said.

He thanked the city for lowering its flags to half-staff in recognition of “the 215 precious souls that were found.”

“It means a lot to all of us,” he said.

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Nathan Taylor

About the Author: Nathan Taylor

Nathan Taylor is the desk editor for Village Media's central Ontario news desk in Simcoe County and Newmarket.
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