Community invited to participate Sept. 30 in Niagara Falls
Seneca Gaming Corp. will hold its second annual “Every Child Matters” walk in downtown Niagara Falls next Friday, Sept. 30, joining communities across the U.S. and Canada in “a growing effort to bring understanding, awareness and healing to the abuse faced by generations of Indigenous children at residential schools that operated across both countries.”
A press release said, “Last year, hundreds of walkers wearing orange T-shirts took part in the walk, making a visible and powerful statement of support, just weeks after the remains of more than 1,000 victims were found at multiple former residential school sites in Canada.”
Seneca Gaming Corp. President and CEO Kevin Nephew, a member of the Seneca Nation, said, “Nobody – and certainly no child – should ever have to face hate and anger because of who they are, where they come from and what they look like. That’s why it was so moving to see our walk route literally flooded in orange last year. That gave us a real sense of community and a very powerful message of ‘We’re here with you and we stand with you.’ ”
Participants for this year’s walk will gather at 5:30 p.m. at Seneca Square, in front of the Fourth Street entrance to Seneca Niagara Resort & Casino. During opening remarks, event leaders will take time to acknowledge any Indian residential school survivors in attendance. At 6:15 p.m., walkers will start along the approximately one-mile walk route, pausing for a moment of silence at Prospect Point, along with a Healing Song sung by Haudenosaunee singers. They will return to the casino, where there will be closing remarks and a mini social with Haudenosaunee singers and dancers. As part of the day’s recognition, Niagara Falls and Seneca Niagara Resort & Casino will both be illuminated in orange.
The press release continued, “Beginning in the 1800s and lasting well into the 1990s, tens of thousands of Native American children were forced to attend residential schools across the United States and Canada, where they were systematically stripped of their names, traditional language and culture, and where they were often the victims of physical abuse. Thousands of children are known to have died at these schools. It is believed that the deaths of hundreds – if not thousands – more were never documented.
“Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Interior, led by Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Native American to serve in a cabinet position, issued its initial report from the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative, which was created to investigate and document the federal government’s role in the forced ‘assimilation’ of Native American children. The report identified 408 schools, operating at 431 sites across 37 states, under the direction and/or with the financial support of the federal government.”
Seneca Gaming Corp. Chairwoman Dr. Lori Quigley is an educator who has done extensive research and written journal articles on the impact and intergenerational trauma of Indian residential schools. She said, “Native communities have been shaped and scarred by the tragedies of the residential school era for generations.
“We’re talking about children – some who never came home; others, now gone, who carried their pain with them for the rest of their lives; and many who still carry their pain with them today. It’s unimaginable, yet still all too real. Their pain and their experience need to be brought to a better light.
“As important, the survivors, and the generations of families and communities who still feel the impacts of the residential schools deserve healing and community support.”
In addition to Nephew and Quigley, speakers at the event will include author and registered social worker Dawn Hill, a member of the Mohawk Nation from the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory; New York State Supreme Court Justice Mark A. Montour, an enrolled member of the St. Regis Mohawk Nation, and the first Native American ever elected to a state judicial position in New York; and Buffalo Sabres alumni Cody McCormick, an Ojibway member of the Thames First Nation.
The press release added, “For years observed as Orange Shirt Day as a way to educate and promote awareness of the impact Indigenous residential schools had on Indigenous people and communities, Sept. 30 is now a federal statutory holiday in Canada known as National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
“The ‘Every Child Matters’ walk in Niagara Falls coincides with a number of other awareness events taking place across the region. The Seneca Nation is holding a healing ceremony and walk for Nation members on the Cattaraugus Territory in Irving, where the Thomas Indian School operated from 1855-1956. There are also several events being planned throughout the week in Ontario.
“No matter where you are on Sept. 30, we are asking everyone to please wear orange as an outward sign of remembrance of the victims and support for the survivors and communities that still struggle with the pain and loss fostered by the residential schools,” Seneca Nation President Matthew Pagels said. “The disintegration of Native languages, customs and communities, along with the strain caused to family structures, have spanned generations. The promise of futures prematurely brought to an end will forever remain untold. We will walk together to give voice to their experience and help to shoulder their pain.”
Seneca Gaming Corp. is a wholly owned, tribally chartered corporation of the Seneca Nation of Indians, which operates the Nation’s class III casino gaming properties. For more information, visit SenecaGamingCorporation.com.