Lisa Mariano doesn't want Thursday's first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation to go unnoticed.
The social services student at Seneca College has organized an Orange Shirt Day and vigil this Thursday to mark the event on the banks of the Grand River, just a short drive from the first residential school in Canada.
"It's important we take these opportunities to learn from those with lived experiences," Mariano said in an email.
Mariano says Ontario has the largest population of Indigenous people in Canada and over 40,000 living in Waterloo Region.
"These are our neighbours," she said.
Brantford is home to Canada's first residential school run from 1831-1970, and Six Nations is the largest Indigenous reserve in Canada.
The Mohawk Institute in Brantford, now known as Woodland Cultural Centre, is currently the focus of ground penetrating radar investigations into unmarked graves and is a place that "without a doubt effected every Indigenous person in this region, for generations," Mariano said.
The Cambridge resident is not new to efforts to recognize and respect Indigenous culture and history in our midst.
Last year she began an effort to get the City of Cambridge to commemorate the site of a former Iroquoian village near Myers Road and Highway 24 as a municipal heritage site. Several obstacles were in the way and so far there's no plan to memorialize the long houses and pottery unearthed when a subdivision was approved there in the late '80s.
But with Sept. 30 quickly approaching, Mariano wanted to do something to enhance what the city already had planned for the first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation.
The city raised the orange "Every Child Matters" flag to half mast at city hall and will colour the pedestrian bridge and city sign orange to acknowledge the day.
At 7 p.m. city residents are invited to the bridge for a land acknowledgement and to hear Wilfrid Laurier professor Kelly Fran Davis speak.
The Director of Indigenous Education and Enlightenment with the Canadian Congress on Inclusive Diversity & Workplace Equity will lead the conversation about residential schools and share her knowledge.
Fran Davis is a Haudenosaunee woman from the Six Nations of the Grand River territory and has many years’ experience as an Indigenous educator, researcher, advisor and knowledge keeper.
She is grounded by Haudenosaunee philosophy and guided by the calls to action of Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
The group will then walk with candles and glow sticks from the pedestrian bridge to City Hall to hold a 2:15 moment of silence beneath the flag.
"I know it is last minute, but I hope to see council and staff come out and support, learn from our speaker and show our neighbours we stand with them as they mourn and heal from the brutality of residential schools," Mariano said.
Anyone who cannot make the event is asked to consider donating to the Orange Shirt Society, Woodland Cultural Centre, or any local Indigenous organizations to empower Indigenous voices in our community being heard.