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Around 500 Abbotsford students stretched out over hundreds of metres marched along a path as they marched for Orange Shirt Day Friday morning. Dustin Godfrey/Abbotsford News It was a day of sober reflection and optimism in Mill Lake Park Friday morning, as hundreds of Abbotsford students joined with Indigenous groups, donning orange shirts to commemorate the legacy of residential schools.

The long-lasting effects are still being felt, even for those whose families were taken from their families years ago, students heard. Local Indigenous leaders spoke of the effects on their families as they grapple with generational cycles of abuse imparted by the residential school system.

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“When you hear about our healing and you hear about how broken we are, try to believe it. Try to just close your eyes and imagine your child being taken away from you at five years old,” said Coun. Brenda Morgan of the Matsqui First Nation, a sentiment echoed by Sumas First Nation education co-ordinator Jennette Pierre.

“On a summer day, only a few years ago, I was sitting on my living room sofa. I could hear our children playing outside. They were running, laughing. But I was only listening. I thought to myself ‘it must have been so quiet without our children,’” Pierre said.

“How could our communities survive without the laughter of children? I sat there with tears coming down my face, thinking of how my grandmother must have felt.”

But leaders also offered hope for the future, noting that the young generation of students coming together with the Indigenous community for an event like Orange Shirt Day is indicative of the change to come.

Along with Pierre and Morgan,

At the event, children heard and participated in songs, singing and drumming at a clearing at Mill Lake Park after marching from the west side near the water park in a line that stretched hundreds of metres.

“I’m looking out and I’m seeing so many young, beautiful faces, and it just makes me feel so good. Because I think one of the favourite names I have today is grandma. So when I look out and I see so many children here, I think every child matters,” Morgan said.

“The sea of orange is awesome. The sea of orange is beautiful. It’s beautiful.”

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