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Pikwakanagans of Golden Lake remember one of their own in somber ceremony

The Pikwakanagan community gathered on sacred cultural grounds at Golden Lake to remember Joey Commanda and 215 children found buried at the site of one of Canada's residential schools.

The Algonquins of Pikwakanagan are reflecting on the affects residential schools have had on its people after the discovery of the remains of 215 Indigenous children in a British Columbia mass grave.

Pikwakanagan Communications Officer and former Chief Lisa Meness-Kohoko described the overall mood as 'somber' when close to 100 people came together to remember the children at a ceremony held Monday night. 

“The last few years we have held a ceremony in honour of the survivors and those who didn’t come home,” she said. “But this year was by far the most emotional ceremony due to the release of the report on the 215 children who died. It really hit home because we have residential school survivors and one of our own is among the 215 who never came back.”

Joey Commanda was removed from his home in Golden Lake and sent to the Mohawk Institute in Brantford (referred to by survivors as "Mushhole" for its unique brand of watery porridge) in the 1960s, where, along with several other children, he endured harsh beatings at the hands of the administrators.

By the age of 13 he had he had enough of the school and ran away. Commanda decided to hike to Golden Lake, reaching the edges of Toronto after evading the police. He was struck by an eastbound train in Oakville on September 3, 1968 and killed.

Commanda was described in the official report as a "trespasser," not as a brave and hungry boy on his way back home.

No one was held responsible for the death, but he, along with all the children killed in Kamloops, were remembered on Monday night.

“It was such an emotional evening and when our speakers, including Chief Wendy Jocko, Councillor Barb Sarazin and OPP Officer Jerry Novack spoke, it really hit home,” Meness-Kohoko said.

Commanda's sister Jacqueline Sarazin, once again was supported by her community when the Sacred Fire was lit prior to the 6 p.m. ceremony. Surrounded by a sea of orange shirts and several people clutching children’s shoes, she could only imagine how life might have been different if her brother had come home.

Throughout the day, the front steps of the Nativity of Our Lady Mission Catholic Church became the focal point of the tight-knit community as people dropped off shoes and stuffed teddy bears in honour of the children.

“I think our community members appreciate the symbolism of the shoes not only here, but several Catholic churches across Canada, including here at St. James in Eganville have helped in the process,” Sarazin said. “But we are also waiting for the Pope to acknowledge and apologize on behalf of the Catholic Church. That will go a long way to healing and was one of the 94 recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Report issued a few years ago.”

She said there were many tears shed on Monday night and it will take a long time for the healing to be completed, but Meness-Kohoko said the outpouring of support from Canadians of all walks of life is a big step in the right direction.

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