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Reconciliation Week starts with All Nations Canoe Gathering

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Smooth waters greeted First Nations paddlers from across Canada, and the world, Tuesday as they arrived in Vancouver to heal and navigate out of a stormy past caused by the horrors of residential schools.

With their colourful and decorative paddles in the air, dozens of canoes – many being paddled by residential school survivors – saluted elders, dignitaries and hundreds of spectators around False Creek on traditional Coast Salish land, officially kicking off the week-long Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s National Gathering Event in ceremonial, spirited and deeply emotional style.

“If we are going to come to terms with this past, if we are going to have a discussion about what we need to do about it, then we need to reveal the whole truth,” said Chief Dr. Robert Joseph, ambassador for Reconciliation Canada, on the first canoe to arrive at the All Nations Canoe Gathering ceremony. “We need all Canadians to understand it is not just the Aboriginal people that must go through the healing process, but Canada itself must heal from its own sin as well.”

John Rustad, B.C. minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, shared a canoe with several survivors and said the experience was a powerful one.

“This has been quite a flood of emotions that have come over,” he admitted. “Before we launched, we had a circle and the survivors that were on our canoe shared their stories. It was very emotional and it does well up in you.”

Shawn Atleo, National Chief for the Assembly of First Nations, hopes this week proves to be a turning point in the ongoing reconciliation process.

“It’s a significant moment,” he said. “This is a moment for action to be given to the apology offered by the Prime Minister in 2008 – good words, strong words that now need to be implemented.”

The National Gathering Event continues through Sunday, Sept. 22.

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