A sea of orange moved throughout downtown London, ON on July 1 — a powerful message of support and a demand for change.
Amid calls to cancel Canada Day celebrations as Indigenous communities across the country are retraumatized and mourning the loss and suffering at the hands of the residential “school” system, London’s Turtle Island Healing Walk was designed to bring about healing and show support for local Indigenous Peoples.
“We call on our communities, our people and our allies… come together to walk towards healing on Turtle Island.”
Beginning at 10 am on Thursday, July 1, 2021, thousands of people filled Victoria Park to mourn and show solidarity.
The event began with an opening ceremony with speeches, singing, drumming, dancing, and reflection. There were speakers and members from local communities, including Chippewa of the Thames First Nation, Oneida Nation of the Thames, and Kettle and Stony Point First Nation. Speakers and artists included the Eagle Flights Singers, Chief Jason Henry of Kettle and Stony Point First Nation, Benaise Kwe Henry, Ashley Riley, Vanessa Ambtman-Smith, Sierra Jamieson, Debwaywin Deleary, and Colleen Jamieson.
With an estimated 10-15 thousand people in attendance, the walk is one of the largest events in London’s recent history, alongside the Multi-Faith March to End Hatred in support of the Afzaal Family and Muslim Londoners on June 9 and last year’s Black Lives Matter gathering.
As the event was kicking off, organizers told the crowd that people have asked why this isn’t a protest. They responded there is a time and place for protests, but that now is a time of grieving. Instead, the goal of the Turtle Island Healing Walk was to get Londoners to pause and reflect in solidarity with Indigenous People.
Indigenous Peoples led the march, with allies following behind in solidarity — an apt representation of the path forward to reconciliation with allies listening and following the lead of Indigenous communities and voices.
A Sea of Orange
A steady stream of orange made its way out of Victoria Park following the opening ceremony. Organizers encouraged attendees to wear orange — a colour associated with residential school survivors and their stories since Orange Shirt Day (September 30) launched in 2013.
The leaders of the walk stopped at the intersection of Oxford and Richmond, forming a circle. Drummers and singers stood in the centre with jingle dress dancers moving around them. Orange smoke was released to honour and commemorate those who did not come home from residential “schools.”
After that, the walk continued west down Oxford to Wharncliffe, south on Wharncliffe to Riverside, back across the river and down Dundas to Richmond, where participants made their way back to the park. The 5K walk ended back at Victoria Park with closing ceremonies.
Keep Showing Up
Both Indigenous community leaders and organizers of the event reminded Londoners that there is much more work to be done. It doesn’t stop with a single day. The allies who showed up on July 1 must continue showing up, doing the work, and demanding change.