It was meant to be an emotional and therapeutic ode to a tragic past but Calgary rock singer Miesha Louie says the band never expected it to get as much attention as it did.
The goal was to bring awareness to the discovery of the remains of 215 children at the Kamloops Residential School in May 2021 — and all of those discovered since.
All proceeds from the single went directly to the Indian Residential School Survivors’ Society, an organization with a 20-year history of providing services to residential school survivors.
Sparking conversation and awareness
When the first remains were found in 2021, Louie was shocked by the number of people who didn’t know about the history of Canada’s residential schools.
“It was everywhere on social media and a lot of people didn’t believe necessarily, which really blew my mind because this is stuff I’ve known since I was a child,” she says.
“It changed the whole course of my family’s life, what (my grandmother) experienced there. And that’s just one story.”
Louie, who is a mixed-Secwépemc artist living in Treaty 7 Territory, felt a sense of duty to bring more awareness to a tragic situation.
“It hit me really hard, and I kind of needed to write this to get through that. I felt driven to make sure that I shared my experience with as many people as possible because of that disconnection that I think people were feeling.”
A painful connection
Louie has a personal connection to the single, and it was a therapeutic way to talk about her own pain.
“I wrote this song to process everything I was feeling: the grief, the horror, the anger, and the helplessness,” she explains.
“Like most Indigenous kids, I already knew the history of abuse that came with the assimilation these schools offered. I saw it first-hand reflected in the generational suffering of my family.”
Louie’s grandmother survived the Tk’emlups Residential School, sent there after her two older sisters died at St. Eugenes, a residential school near Cranbrook. BC, which was closer to their home. Unlike her sisters, she made it back home, but she was shamed and pregnant.
“As the numbers piled in from all across Canada, gaining more press and social media attention, survivors and their relatives shared their stories, again, because they’ve been doing this for years while no one listened, and I read them all,” she says.
“I found myself in a very dark place, absorbed in my grandmother’s story and so many like her, and it was very difficult to dig myself out.”
Hitting the charts
Louie tells Calgary Citizen that she had no idea how powerful — or popular — the song would become.
“It did so much better on radio than I was anticipating. What I was trying to do was write a song that’s catchy and accessible, but about something pretty dark and deep and serious,” she says, adding they hoped it would do well on some of the smaller stations.
“I didn’t think that other bigger stations would grab onto it like they did and it charted super well.”
The single hit number one on the Indigenous Music Countdown chart, and it hit the Mediabase adult alternative charts at 59 — they’d never been in the top 100 before. It hit number two on SiriusXM Canada’s CBC Radio 3.
“I was impressed by how radio took it and decided to share it despite the uncomfortableness of the topic. It’s doing better on radio than any other single we’ve ever released, and that’s despite being uncomfortable.”
National Day of Truth and Reconciliation
Louie is disappointed that the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation isn’t considered a mandatory statutory holiday in Canada. While some provinces are encouraging it as a stat holiday, the Alberta government left it up to individual companies to decide.
“I don’t know what everyone’s going to get out of this … but I hope what it kind of does is bring more awareness to what happened in hopes of moving forward,” Louie says.
“I hope it brings some more support to Indigenous artists and business and just things that can help everybody move forward as a nation together.”
In Calgary, Sept. 30 is being honoured as Orange Shirt Day and there is a public ceremony including a moment of silence at Fort Calgary beginning at 10 a.m. The event will also be live-streamed.
Attendees are encouraged to wear orange, preferably from a local Indigenous vendor, to show their allyship and solidarity.
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