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Miles Morrisseau
Special to Indian Country Today

THE PAS, Manitoba — They call themselves the Young Wolf Pack, and they are out on the streets in what the Cree call Mino-Keeseegow, a beautiful day.

Working in the cool shade on a surprisingly hot day at the end of September, Sidney Head, Pimicikimik Cree Nation, and Destin Laronde, Metis Nation, are painting a mural on a wall designated as a public art space near the corner of Edward Street and Provincial Road 285.

The central image will be an orange shirt — a symbol acknowledged worldwide for the North American genocide of Indigenous people in Indian boarding schools in the United States and residential schools in Canada as a final solution to the so-called “Indian problem.”

The mural will be painted and ready for memorials across the U.S. and Canada on Thursday, Sept. 30, for the newly designated Truth and Reconciliation Day in Canada and Remembrance Day in the U.S. to commemorate all the children who never came home.

Head, from Cranberry Portage, and Laronde, from Moose Lake, are part of a project launched by The Pas Resource Centre. The Wolf Pack is a group that brings out youth to volunteer on community projects and help out where needed.

Located on the banks of the North Saskatchewan River, which carries water from the Rocky Mountains to the Arctic Ocean at Hudson’s Bay, The Pas is on the south side of the river it shares with the Opaskwayak Cree Nation. It is home to a renowned winter festival immortalized in the book, “Kiss of the Fur Queen,” by Thomson Highway.

The Pas is also home of the notorious murder of Helen Betty Osbourne, a young Cree woman killed nearly 50 years ago on Nov. 13, 1971, by a group of men who talked about it for years. The case was detailed in a book, “Conspiracy of Silence,” which was later turned into a Canadian Broadcasting Corp. television movie.

The case has put the community at ground zero, in some ways, for the effort to draw attention to murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls in Canada. When the truth finally came out about the death of 19-year-old Osborne and the conspiracy to keep it quiet, it shook the foundations of Canadian society.

Bridging the gap

The mural is among a series of commemorations and events scheduled for Canada’s first Truth and Reconciliation Day, which has been declared a national holiday. Special events are also scheduled throughout the U.S.

In Canada, a special First Nations event, “Remember Me: A National Day of Remembrance,” will join other remembrances at Parliament Hill in Ottawa Thursday, including an opening ceremony, a spirit walk and performances and presentations. It is being billed as “an inclusive event led by Indigenous women.”

Sidney Head, Cree, left, from Cranberry Portage, and Destin Laronde, Metis Nation, from Moose Lake, are painting an "orange shirt" mural to remember youths who attended Canada's now-shuttered Indian residential schools, many of whom never came home. The teens, part of a group known as The Young Wolf Pack, are helping with the project sponsored by The Pas Family Resource Centre in Manitoba Canada. (Photo by Miles Morriseau for Indian Country Today)

“September 30th is a day to show unity in our efforts to bridge the gap between Canadians and Indigenous people,” the organizers posted on Facebook. “It is an opportunity to embrace diversity and promote equality. Above all, it will encourage dialog, active citizenship and social responsibility.

“It is imperative to teach the next 7 generations that we are all in this together,” the statement continued. “It is imperative that we demonstrate our defiant motivation to protect our children at all costs. See each other the way the Moon sees the Sun; vastly different and equally important."

This historical image shows the Marieval (Cowessess) Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan, Canada. More than 700 remains were discovered at the site in unmarked graves in late June, 2021. The school was run for years by the Catholic Church. (Photo courtesy of St. Boniface Historical Society Archives via APTN National News)

The Indian Residential School System was in operation in Canada until the early 1990s, and the majority of students at that time came from isolated northern communities.

Sept. 30 was designated a national holiday by the Canadian Parliament in June, just over a month after the first mass of 215 unmarked graves of children who never came home were discovered at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in Kamloops, British Columbia, which is adjacent to Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation.

Destin Laronde, Metis Nation, from Moose Lake, is helping paint an orange-shirt mural for Canada's Day of Truth and Reconciliation on Sept. 30, 2021, to remember the victims of Canada's Indian residential school system. The day became a national holiday in Canada for the first time in 2021. (Photo by Miles Morrisseau for Indian Country Today)

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the holiday on June 21, which is National Indigenous Solidarity Day. Sept. 30 has been celebrated as Orange Shirt Day in Canada to honor the healing journey of Phyliss Webstad, Northern Secwpemc, an Indian residential school survivor.

“The goal is to encourage Canadians to learn about and reflect on our country’s history and present-day truths, as well as to commemorate the survivors, their families, and their communities,” Trudeau said.

Federal and provincial governments are shut down as well as banks, schools and other institutions. The day is not a holiday in the United States, which has not yet recognized its Indian boarding school history, though events are planned from Alaska to Boston.

Hand prints in orange

The mural in The Pas is going up on the exterior wall of the resource center, and invitations have been sent out to the community to encourage survivors come out Thursday to put their hand prints in orange into the outline of the T-shirt.

Inter-generational survivors have been asked to make their mark on the red path that runs along the bottom of the mural.

The Young Wolf Pack is contributing to the effort as part of its other work in the community, said Lisa Gamblin, Cree, project manager of the Cedar Path Project at the center.

“The Young Wolf Pack Project is based on engaging youth in community and giving them resources and increasing their awareness of their community and how they can be a positive member of their community,” she said.

“The youth are engaged not only in cleaning up the streets but handing out sandwiches and bottles of water to the homeless,” Gamblin said. “The youth also participate in programs in developing job skills as well as Indigenous culture-based programming including a land-based culture camp at the end of the month.”

For more info

For a list of some of the events scheduled in Canada and the U.S., visit Indian Country Today.

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to note that Helen Betty Osbourne, a young Cree woman, was brutally murdered on Nov. 13, 1971 by a group of men who talked about it for years. She was not sexually assaulted.  

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