Indigenous Elders, artists, allies and others gathered downtown on Sept. 30 to honour residential school survivors and those impacted by the trauma.

The annual Pokaiks Commemorative Walk and Gathering celebrates Indigenous culture and reconciliation through artistic expression.

Grey skies and rain didn’t stop this year’s walkers, who started outside City Hall and circulated through Century Gardens Park, before settling at Shaw Millennium Park for the gathering.

Local Indigenous vendor showcasing his artwork. PHOTO: Sarah Palmer

The event began with a greeting from Elder Clarence Wolfleg. Following, audiences watched a drum performance by the Sober Crew — an Indigenous drumming group composed of people recovering from addiction. Led by Robbie Daniels, the group offers a safe and approachable environment where members empower each other on a journey of musically-guided healing.

Additionally, jiggers and Indigenous youth performed an assortment of traditional dances wearing their respective regalia. Later, singer and spoken-word artist, Valkyrie, performed her original songs — U.I.Q (Unapologetically Indigenous Queenz) and Take Control.

The walk was organized by the Colouring It Forward Reconciliation Society. Their founder and CEO, Diana Frost, added an artisan fair for this year’s gathering. Approximately 20 Indigenous artisans braved the weather to sell their handmade artistic goods. Contributing to reconciliation economically and emotionally, the opportunity allowed artisans to connect with the public and earn their financial support.

“If Indigenous people have economic strength under them, they can make the change that they need in the world,” said Frost.

Frost was unaware that she was Indigenous until her early adult years due to her mother withholding information about their heritage from having had her own adolescence ripped away by the residential school system.

“She couldn’t tell me anything else because she didn’t remember,” said Frost. “She just couldn’t reconnect with her family and her community.”

Striving to restore her Indigenous identity, Frost built friendships with Elders and attended ceremonies. On her journey of personal exploration, she found that Orange Shirt Day movements were often hosted by schools for the attending children and their parents.

“I wanted to go to commemorate on behalf of my mother and my two uncles to honour their story,” said Frost. “But I couldn’t because I don’t have kids.”

Sober Crew Calgary brings drumming, song and connection to the Pokaiks Gathering. PHOTO: Sarah Palmer

Wishing to honour her residential school-surviving relatives but not being a parent herself caused Frost to recognize the limited outlet for honouring the children of the past.

“I decided — how hard could it possibly be to start a walk?”

After founding the Colouring It Forward non-profit organization in 2018, Frost decided that their first activity would be an Orange Shirt Day walk. Named by Blackfoot elder Clarence Wolfleg, ‘pokaiks’ describes the Blackfoot word for ‘children’ — and so the first Pokaiks Commemorative Walk and Gathering was launched in 2019.

Since then, the event has grown from “just 50 people trudging through the snow” to what Frost estimated as 6,000 attendees in 2022.

“It’s dedicated to all the children of humanity, past and present,” said Frost. “Whether they have passed or not.”

PHOTO: Sarah Palmer

This year’s event highlighted the importance of taking action. The organization curated and handed out ‘ReconciliACTION’ passports. The booklets show how to be active participants of reconciliation and recommend the ways non-Indigenous people can be productive allies for the Indigenous community. The booklets are available for purchase on the Colouring It Forward website.

Organizers believe every bit of this work is important.

“Doesn’t matter how big or how small your action is,” said Frost. “We want to encourage everyone to do something.”

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