By NC Raine, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

A sea of orange-clad people, of all ages and ethnicities, made their way through the downtown core of Saskatoon as part of the Rock Your Roots walk on National Indigenous People’s Day.

The Reconciliation-focused walk has been taking place since 2016, but this year saw its biggest turnout ever with over 3,300 individuals assembling to honour the truth of Reconciliation schools.

Supporters of residential school survivors walked through Riversdale and Downtown Saskatoon

“There’s way more education, there’s more awareness, there’s more attendance (to these kinds of events). There’s more people saying ‘this matters to me’,” said Carrie Catherine, Director of Reconciliation Saskatoon.

The event, hosted by Reconciliation Saskatoon, also saw an uptick in attendance due to the work that they doe in in schools and the community before the walk. Hosted in September during the last two years, Reconciliation Saskatoon went back to hosting the event in June, carrying the momentum they build in schools during the year into the walk.

“The survivors were telling us they missed the kids showing up in school buses,” said Catherine. “The turnout of all the young people is one of the most rewarding things about the walk.”

Increased numbers of youth attended this year’s walk due to the event being held before the end of the school year.

Reconciliation Saskatoon circulates lesson plans and educational videos throughout schools in Saskatoon. One of the things that resonates most strongly with students is learning that survivors often didn’t have their birthdays acknowledged while at residential school. Groups of students will make birthday cards for the survivors and present them at the walk.

“I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house. It’s very impactful. I think it’s so emotional because the one thing we hear so much in all the work we do are survivors asking us to engage youth,” said Catherine.

“If we can get to the youth, we can really have a hope of change. That birthday card experience create the impression that youth are hearing us.”

In addition to youth, Reconciliation Saskatoon are also connecting with newcomers to Canada, who often arrive not knowing the darker parts of Canadian history, said Catherine.

“We invite newcomers because that’s the message of Rock Your Roots – come celebrate who you are and where you come from. Wear your cultural regalia and bring your flags in honour of survivors,” she said.

The small group from the Tipi Teaching Project were also at the Rock Your Roots walk. Created as a way to engrain the important teachings and traditions behind tipi building, Reconciliation Saskatoon’s Tipi Teaching Project is made up of four young women, aged 15 to 30, who were steeped in the culture and importance of tipis so they could raise tipis at events, gatherings, and ceremonies.

“These young women are learning, teaching and building community. Some of them had very little of this kind of teaching, so it’s opening up a whole new world to them,” said Catherine.

The large turnout to events like Rock Your Roots indicate Reconciliation is progressing forward, said Catherine.

“I think change is happening. The language we’re using, the way we are able to talk about racism, the way that all of this information and learning is widely available,” said Catherine. “We used to do events four years ago because we were the only ones doing events. There’s so much going on now that we can start responding to different needs in the community, and start filling in the gaps.”