By Jacob Willis 
BELLEVILLE – In honour of National Truth and Reconciliation Day , Loyalist College’s A’nó:wara Learning Circle was used as a space for open communication about community and reconciliation at the college.
Guest speakers shed light on the harrowing legacy of the Canadian residential school system in Indigenous communities. They broke down the historic, institutionalized barriers imposed upon First Nations peoples as a result of Canada’s colonialism.
Sacred tobacco packets were handed out to all attendees as gifts, along with cards that educate their traditional meaning. In Indigenous ceremony, tobacco was used in prayer to thank the Creator and Mother Earth for their blessings.
Paul Latchford, host of the event and manager of Indigenous services at the college, explained the significance of these gifts.
“(The tobacco) is a memento,” Latchford said. “Everybody can use it in their own way – that’s the beauty of it. That’s what this event is all about, finding these things to unify us as a community.”
He also discussed the importance of holding these events to create a safe environment for disadvantaged youth.http://www.qnetnews.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Paul-Latchford-Interview-pre-event-1-AudioTrimmer.com_.m4a 
“As you come together, you become something. I’ve worked with kids on the streets. They’d turn to gangs looking for that safety and comfort, not realizing the violence part of it.”
This meeting was one of many similar educational events held at Loyalist throughout the week, their campaign to raise awareness about Indigenous and environmental issues.
The A’nó:wara Learning Circle will be a hub for these kinds of gatherings in the future. Latchford hinted at big plans for the future once COVID restrictions are lifted.
“This space will soon be used for great festivals,” Latchford said. “It’s still pretty new (the project was completed in Sept. 2020). We’ll bring up a drum group and have a feast – we’ll even invite the primary school kids up the street. We just can’t right now because of COVID.”
Loyalist President Ann Marie Vaughan says she recognizes the importance of truth, education, and reconciliation with the Indigenous community.
“Our entire Loyalist College community, both past and present, must accept its role as being part of this shared history of Canada and the First Peoples who have lived on traditional lands long before colonization began 500 years ago,” Vaughan wrote in a statement. “We have an ethical and moral responsibility to reflect upon our role in reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.”
She stressed the urgency of this matter, in light of this year’s discovery of the mass graves in former residential school sites across the nation.
“While this discovery was met with disbelief and incredible sorrow for many, it was a painful confirmation for many First Nation Communities of what they have long known to be true,” she said.
Many provinces instituted this date as a holiday, giving workers the day off in respect. The Ontario government, on the other hand, invested into educational programs to use this day as an opportunity to shed light on Indigenous issues.
“This day is for education,” Latchford said. “We need to come together in this natural world, because it’s slipping by quickly. If we don’t start working together, our kids are in trouble.”
Attendees echoed Latchford’s sentiment. Amy Kerr, a Belleville native, said she sees this event as a means of learning and growing as a community.
“A lot of people really have no idea what’s going on, or what has happened in the past (between the Indigenous community and the federal government),” Kerr said. “We need to learn how to come together as one, as neighbours.”