WARNING: This story contains distressing details.
Looking out over the crowd at Ojibway Park, which had gathered Friday to mark Canada's second National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, Windsor's Indigenous storyteller Theresa Sims spoke her truth.
Sims shared stories about her parents, both of whom were residential school survivors, and the trauma they had experienced.
"I'm here today, because my mother survived the Mohawk Institute — just barely," Sims said.
"She couldn't speak any English, so they took a broom, put it over the well [and] they suspended this little 5-year-old and she hung there until she could say please and thank you in English."
The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is a time to remember children who died while being forced to attend church-run and government-funded residential schools, those who survived and made it home, and the families and communities still affected by lasting trauma.
The day was made a federal statutory holiday last year, realizing a recommendation made by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Sims also described how in residential school her mother saw a young boy die after he greeted her in their language.
"That sight stayed with her, all her life, to see a child — the same age as her — so she learned to be very good and do whatever they said," she said, adding that her father survived after being left to suffer from tuberculosis as part of an experiment.
Sims told CBC News she shared these stories with the community because they need to "hear the truth."
"Even if it hurts, knowledge is what you need," said Sims, who is also the cultural language specialist for Ska:na Family Learning Centre.
Those who attended the event in Windsor were also able to take nature walks through the park, speak to vendors and eat some traditional Indigenous foods.
Edwin Wright, who is from Walpole Island First Nation, is in his first year of culinary school at St. Clair College. He cooked an array of foods for people to enjoy.
"The fried bread is my mother, it's her recipe," Wright said, adding that the recipe has been passed down for generations.
Day for reflection, learning
Clarissa Wheeler attended the event to learn more about her own background, as she said she recently found out that she is Mohawk.
"I don't really know anything about my native heritage, so I thought today I would come and listen to the stories," she said.
"Being out here, amongst the trees and the nature, it made me feel, somehow connected."
Naomi Beauchesne, who is Ojibway First Nation, organized the events that took place at Ojibway Park.
"I would really like Indigenous youth to know there are support systems for them," she said.
"I feel like a lot of people think residential schools, the impact was a million years ago, when it wasn't. There's so much trauma even now ... it's not that residential schools ended and everything was better ... it's not just like it's elders that suffered through this, no it's generational."
Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools or by the latest reports.
A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for survivors and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.
Mental health counselling and crisis support is also available 24 hours a day, seven days a week through the Hope for Wellness hotline at 1-855-242-3310 or by online chat at www.hopeforwellness.ca.