At 2:30 p.m. on Sept. 30, around 40 people were on hand to watch as a Tipi was erected and banners were put up on what used to be known as the Living Bridge, which passes over 97 Street near 105 Ave in downtown Edmonton.
Prairie Sage Protectors, a grassroots mutual aid network, held the event as a part of their response to the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, which some provinces have designated as a statutory holiday.
The group also released a statement on Instagram that, amongst many things, says, “Prairie Sage Protectors rejects the performative and empty displays taking place today from systems that uphold colonial violence, and demands that both the current administration and those who call themselves allies instead honour the Children who were buried to be forgotten by supporting the Survivors who are still here.”
The banners, tied to each side of the bridge and visible from the street, were orange in colour and read “Survivors Still Live Here.” One of the banners was written in English, and the other in Cantonese, “to acknowledge the Chinese community that lives in the neighbourhood,” Desiree Raton-Laveur, a spokesperson for Prairie Sage Protectors, said.
In the statement, the group writes, “as the Canadian state halfheartedly recognizes it’s first ‘Truth & Reconciliation Day’ in light of the recent recoveries of thousands of Indigenous children from unmarked Residential School graves, we find ourselves unable to entertain today as anything more than a placating performance.”
“We have witnessed governments at the municipal, provincial, and federal levels do nothing to address the poverty, addiction, and intergenerational trauma created by colonization,” the statement reads.
Prairie Sage Protectors, whose members include some of the former organizers of Camp Pekiwewin, hold a community barbeque every Sunday at Mary Burlie Park and provide clothing, food, harm reduction supplies, and more for the houseless community that stays in the neighbourhood. The group accepts donations of hygiene products, new or clean clothing, and snacks. As well, monetary donations can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. More information about Prairie Sage Protectors can be found on their Instagram.
The group wrote in their statement that, “Residential School Survivors make up the majority of the unhoused community in Amiskwaciwaskahikan (Edmonton), and we have continued fighting and advocating for our community, but nobody has been listening.”
The group condemns the City of Edmonton by writing, “there are no plans on behalf of the City to set up any overnight shelters that will sustainably support the community over this coming winter, and we face the grim reality that we will lose loved ones to the brutal cold because of this. Those who escaped the Residential School system alive will be left by the City to freeze to death on the streets.”
“They will remain trapped in the reality they have been forced into their whole lives; stripped of dignity, respect, and safety while politicians in orange shirts continue to cut services and supports that would otherwise prevent further harm or death. Their shelters will continue to be destroyed or displaced by EPS officers wearing orange ribbons tied to their uniforms,” the statement goes on.
Prairie Sage Protectors, supporters, and members of the surrounding community stayed on the bridge for the rest of the day, Sept. 30, and overnight. The Living Bridge is surrounded by the old Edmonton Remand Centre and an empty gravel lot. People spent time visiting, singing, and keeping each other company as there was “a fire vigil to honour those who never made it home from Residential Schools,” according to an Instagram post.