CORNWALL, Ontario – The sunrise broke across the clouds early on the morning of Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021, shining a vibrant orange glow upon the crowd wearing orange t-shirts, gathered to honour the first time the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is a statutory holiday in Canada.
Residents, community leaders from the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne, the City of Cornwall, and officials from surrounding townships came together at the former site of the Cornwall Harbour, on land now jointly owned and managed by the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne and the City of Cornwall, for a traditional tobacco offering.
“We are honoured to have started today with a meaningful ceremony with our neighbours and partners from the City of Cornwall,” said grand chief of the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne, Abram Benedict.
The ceremony was led by Skahentati Thompson, who recited the offering in the Mohawk language. Members of the crowd were asked to hold a small amount of tobacco and send good wishes forward. Following Thompson, Keena King presented a traditional honour song.
Thompson had to explain to the crowd of mostly non-Mohawk speakers that his words are often recited when the Haudenosaunee gather. Today’s offering would allow the spirits of the children and teenagers, lost to the Indian Residential School system, to find peace.
“To me it was very educational, it was another aspect of living next door to our neighbor and not knowing them,” said Cornwall Mayor Glen Grant. “With Truth and Reconciliation, and recent partnerships we have, it’s given us more opportunities to understand and gain new respect for the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne and the residents.”
This year marks the first year that the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation Day is a federal statutory holiday in Canada. While the Ontario Government has not officially recognized today as a statutory holiday, most local municipal governments have to some degree. City offices are closed in the City of Cornwall and the Townships of South Stormont and South Glengarry.
“Niawenhkó:wa to the City of Cornwall, Township of South Glengarry and the Township of South Stormont for closing their offices for the day on September 30th, and niawenhkó:wa to the Township of South Dundas and the Township of North Dundas for officially observing September 30,” said the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne, in an official statement released earlier this week.