Clad in orange shirts, a crowd in Regina’s downtown library listened to a tragic, first-hand account of Canada’s residential school system, but was also given a glimpse of a more hopeful future.The event was held to commemorate Orange Shirt Day, which was created to generate a conversation about the legacy of residential schools. The annual event is held during the time of year when Indigenous children were taken from their homes and sent to the schools.One of the speakers was Chief Margaret Bear of the Ochapowace First Nation, who shared her memories of attending a residential school in the late 1960s.Bear was 12 at the time, and described waiting outside her reserve’s Indian Affairs office as school buses arrived to take her to the Gordon’s Indian Residential School in Punnichy.“I remember feeling as a young girl I was hurt, I was lonesome, I was crying. And I didn’t know where I was being sent to,” said Bear.Story continues belowThis advertisement has not loaded yet,but your article continues below. Although the school was only a couple of hours away, Bear said it felt like being “a million miles” away from her family, with whom she had no contact during her time there. Even when her newborn baby brother passed away from pneumonia, Bear said she didn’t find out until she went home for Christmas.While there were painful memories shared, attendees also heard about a more positive story coming from Balcarres, which is located 92 kilometres northeast of Regina.Twenty-two students from Balcarres Community School brought an art exhibit that contained 94 pieces, each representing interpretations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 calls to action. The pieces were created by students, school staff and members of the File Hills First Nation Police Service. The project was done in collaboration with artist Holly Yuzicapi.The school’s student population is 86 percent Indigenous, and learning about First Nations culture is infused into its curriculum. Students spoke to the crowd, and painted a picture of a school free of racial divides, where Indigenous and non-Indigenous students sit together at lunch and play on sports teams together.The students also learn about and discuss residential schools. For many of the Indigenous students, it’s far from a history lesson. Some still have living relatives who attended residential schools.Erika Bellegarde remembers learning about residential schools when she was in Grade 3, but before that she would listen to her grandparents talk about their own experiences.“I think just being pulled into a different lifestyle like that, it’s heartbreaking. I don’t even like to think about it,” said the 16-year-old, who is from Little Black Bear First Nation.Learning about residential schools in the classroom helped Bellegarde “piece everything together.” She remarked on how different the experience of going to school is for Indigenous youth today.“They don’t have to feel sad about going to school and being hurt from going to school, unlike residential school students have,” she said.Julie Englot, one of the school’s non-Indigenous students, said she’s seen the impact residential schools have had on her peers.“It hurts to see them hurting, but also we’re on the way to healing, which is the best thing I can hope for right now,” said Englot, who is in Grade 11.She has attended the school since pre-kindergarten, and said Indigenous culture has always been present. In Grade 10 she participated in “a learning from the land” program, where students spend half of the semester learning First Nations-based teachings.“Everyone is different and that’s embraced here,” said Englot.Michele Schwab, a senior English teacher at the school, said her goal has been to create a classroom with an atmosphere of tolerance so discussions about residential schools can happen candidly.“We need to discuss these issues head-on and frankly, because it is their life and it’s going to be their life when they leave our building. And it’s also good for our non-indigenous students, because it gives them an opportunity to become allies and it strengthens both kids’ identities,” said [email protected] Grade 9 students Shantel Pashe, left. of LeBoldus, and Kiana Francis, of Miller, perform a jingle dance during Orange Shirt Day at the main branch go the Regina Public Library in Regina. Orange Shirt Day was developed to open the door to global conversation on all aspects of residential schools. TROY FLEECE / Regina Leader-Post