While some of the hundreds of orange ribbons he’s tied up in downtown Bracebridge have been torn down, Niso Makwa says he will not stop retying them.
The orange ribbons have become a symbol for the “Every Child Matters” movement that began in June 2021 when hundreds of unmarked graves were found on the grounds of a former residential school in Saskatchewan. In the year that followed, hundreds more unmarked graves were uncovered. It led to the creation of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
“I’m not sure if it’s racist or if it’s miseducation, or it could just be teenagers messing around, you never know what it is,” Makwa says about the ribbons being torn down. “But it’s sad to see somebody go against the efforts of trying to raise awareness.”
Makwa was behind the idea to tie thousands of ribbons on the walkway that goes across the Bracebridge Falls ahead of the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in 2021. While many were taken down after Sept. 30, Makwa says those that were left have been vandalized as well.
“For each one that is torn down, it’s another opportunity to educate someone else with another ribbon,” Makwa says.
He works with the District of Muskoka’s IDEA Advisory Group which promotes inclusion, diversity, and anti-racism. He’s also part of the Muskoka Indigenous Friendship Centre.
Makwa writes “every child matters” with a black Sharpie on every ribbon. “I think it’s important that people have that awareness, especially downtown,” Makwa says. “It’s the main strip. We get a lot of activity here. It’s a good place to raise awareness.”
Since he started noticing the ribbons were being torn down, he started tieing more. Previously, Makwa would only tie two ribbons to the handles of the benches downtown. Now he ties six, plus the many more he ties on lamp posts and anything else he can find.
“I’m going to come back and tie them up again,” he says when asked what will happen if people keep tearing them down. “I’m not going to let the effort die.”
Makwa says he doesn’t get outspoken resistance often, so the ribbons being torn down behind his back isn’t surprising. He does get some harassment but says the positive reactions he gets outweigh the negative ones. Since posting on Facebook about the ribbon being torn down, he’s received messages of support, with one person offering to donate orange ribbon and many others offering their help to tie them.
With the second National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on Sept. 30, Makwa is hopeful council will stand by the Indigenous community. Makwa says he knows there will be a flag raising, but isn’t sure if there are plans for anything else. “My big hope at the flag raising is that it would be nice to see council speak,” he says, adding he wants the Indigenous and non-Indigenous community to be part of the ceremony.
“If I were to hear the mayor speak on what truth and reconciliation meant to him, that would mean a lot to me as an Indigenous person,” Makwa says.
“Miso Makwa took great initiative a year ago to put thousands and thousands of ribbons around our falls,” Bracebridge Mayor Rick Maloney says. “We had a great celebration of Truth and Reconciliation at the falls this time last year.”
“I look forward to working closely with Miso Makwa and other members of our Indigenous community for a true celebration of Truth and Reconciliation in recognition of what true Truth and Reconciliation really means on Sept. 30,” Maloney says, adding more details on what the town has planned will be released soon.
“People need to recognize the trauma and pain we continue to go through on a daily basis,” Makwa says. “We heal from that, but it’s important to get that side of healing from the non-Indigenous community.”