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Several thousand walkers honor 1st National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

A parade of orange shirts flowed around downtown Niagara Falls Thursday evening, as several thousand people marched in a remembrance walk. It was to remind people that every child matters and remember the awful things that happened to generations of Indigenous children who were forced into North America's residential schools.

Across the Niagara River, Thursday was the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Canadians have been forced to recognize the legacy of their residential schools because of cemeteries discovered recently with hundreds of young bodies, hidden away.

In the United States, thousands of children died in the nation's network of these institutions, like the Thomas Indian School on the Seneca Cattaraugus Territory.

The local event was sponsored and run by the Seneca Gaming Corporation. President and CEO and Seneca Kevin Nephew said the schools were established to forcibly assimilate Indians into the wider society.

"To really break them of their culture," he said. "And I think what speaks very highly of the Seneca is our resiliency, that no matter what throughout this time, we've become stronger. As you can see from the amount of orange shirts that are here today, we really look at Every Child Matters. And that's one of the things I think about my grandparents, but I also think about my granddaughter."

Nephew said he wants his granddaughter to have the same opportunities as any other child.

Some of the profits of Seneca casinos have gone into strengthening the language of the Seneca Nation and its culture, like the drummers who played for the march.

Devonne Gardner, a program manager for Leadership Seneca at Seneca Gaming, said her grandfather was a victim of a residential school.

"When he went there, he was fluent in Seneca language. When he came home, he wouldn't speak it again," Gardner said. "He knew language. He understood it, but for some reason he wouldn't speak it. It was like he had some post-traumatic stress thing, couldn't bring the words out."

Seneca artist Caleb Abrams said members of his family also suffered through the residential schools.

"Seneca people, native people all across to the islands believe the stories. They know the stories because we are still living with the impacts, continuing to feel the impacts today," Abrams said. "So while the residential schools may have closed their doors, we are very much still living in that era with their influence and impact."