To coincide with this year’s National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, Piikani Child and Family Services unveiled a new billboard proclaiming a powerful message: EVERY CHILD MATTERS.
Located near the Piikani Travel Centre along Highway 3, the billboard was officially revealed during a touching event last Friday.
The new sign is dedicated to all Piikani Nation members who were impacted by residential schools, and reaffirms the message to every child in the community that they matter.
“When the 94 Calls to Action came out, it was really evident that Piikani needed to have some sort of acknowledgement, a way to let everyone know that we are part of Blackfoot territory and we were affected by residential schools,” says Mary Plain Eagle, child intervention manager with PCFS.
Mary is a third-generation survivor of residential schools, as she, along with her parents and grandparents, experienced the hardships many Indigenous people know all too well.
The unfortunate reality is that Mary is not an outlier. Many members of the Piikani Nation are multi-generational survivors of institutions where children were stripped of their freedoms, their cultures and their identities.
Many who endured residential school life were present for the unveiling, which featured heartfelt speeches from elders Peter Strikes With A Gun and Herman Many Guns, Piikani Nation Chief Troy Knowlton and the executive director of PCFS, Kelly Provost.
They spoke to the horrors of residential schools, of colonization, but also of the need to heal and rise above these hardships.
“This sign not only symbolizes our healing process, but it also signifies our ability to move forward with our loyalty to our way of life,” Mary says.
According to her, this initiative was first proposed to former Piikani chief Stan Grier and council, all of whom were on board with the idea.
Earlier this year, Grier was replaced by Chief Knowlton, and so the initiative was brought forth once more to the new chief and council, who were absolutely for it, as well.
“I just feel like it’s been a long time coming,” Mary says.
“Thirty years ago, you would never have heard this sort of acknowledgement for children that were in residential school, and now as time goes on, we’re starting to hear more about it and are acknowledging what happened.”
Following the event, spectators gathered at a teepee set up outside the Piikani Travel Centre, where folks received complimentary merchandise and a free lunch.
On behalf of the PCFS, Mary extends gratitude to the North Stone drum group, Wade Plain Eagle and crew for the sign structure, Little Miss Piikani Alyson Red Young Man, the PCFS staff and everyone else who made this possible.