By Rob Houle, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
(ANNews) – On September 30, 2021, formerly Orange Shirt Day, Canada and some provinces will be taking time to reflect on the horrors of the Residential School System, its intergenerational effects and how much further this country has to go in terms of Reconciliation. For the Prairie Sage Protectors, they will be taking their frustrations and actions to the streets of downtown Edmonton.
The grassroots collective, composed of Black, Indigenous and people of colour, was borne from the need to organize following the dismantling of Camp Pekiwewin in 2020. When the camp of 400 drew the attention of the Nation, the youth at ground zero felt a fire ignite within them. They began to push forward important issues in collaboration with other groups like Treaty 6 Outreach, Bear Clan Patrol and other service providers, formal and informal.
In a discussion with Alberta Native News, Spokesperson Desiree Raton-Lazeur stated “[Prairie Sage Protectors] engages in harm reduction, mutual aid, street works and advocacy for people within the downtown core… many who are Residential School Survivors.” The group has become growingly frustrated with the lack of action on numerous fronts, while the posturing of government has increased with the creation of holidays like the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
The group maintains a healthy social media presence, and sees those tools as the best mechanism to reach the community. Raton-Lazeur said, “We want to meet the community, and people, where they are at.” Prairie Sage Protectors shared that they have been in numerous meetings with organizations and the City of Edmonton, with little action on issues they see as pressing, such as public restrooms for resilient people.
In an effort to continue this advocacy, and draw attention to differing perspectives around September 30, the group and their partners dropped banners in Edmonton’s Chinatown neighbourhood. These banners, reading “Survivors Still Live Here” in both English and Cantonese, are designed to remind Edmontonians that Residential School Survivors are still present. They hope, by taking direct action, it encourages community leaders and decision makers to go further than performative gestures.
As another Winter approaches, Raton-Lazeur reminded ANN that “shelters are not ready for winter, and while the bridge is orange, hundreds will be sleeping on the street.” By building bridges within the Chinese community, whom they have been working closely with leading up to September 30, it is hoped that some of the polarization displayed in the myriad of elections can be combated. The group has committed to holding space for anyone who wishes to join their efforts.
In a stark reminder to Canadians, and the truth that Residential Schools are not just a historical system, the Prairie Sage Protectors offered the following: “Truth and Reconciliation cannot happen while Colonization is ongoing.”
With these statements and actions, it is their hope that September 30 becomes more than just a day off to reflect, but an opportunity to shape Canada into the country we were always meant to be.