Two Red Deerians have been recognized for their work toward restorative justice.
Lyle Keewatin Richards and Donald W. Hepburn were given honorary Doctor of Sacred Letters degrees from St. Stephen’s College in Edmonton during a ceremony held Monday.
The two were nominated by the Council of Sunnybrook United Church in Red Deer for their lifetimes of community service and for their role in initiating the Remembering the Children Society, which has received national recognition as a model of Community Based Restorative Justice in response to the tragedy of the Residential School system.
Richards became aware that children had died at the Red Deer Industrial School and been buried on the grounds when the owner of the former school site brought wooden grave markers to the Red Deer Museum for safe keeping. Around the same time, an Indigenous Elder asked him to find out where his brother had been buried.
For nearly twenty years, Richards tried to find allies who would help arrange for the cemetery to be recognized. The breakthrough happened when Sunnybrook United Church did a series of services focusing on relations with Indigenous people. When Richards mentioned the cemetery, congregational member Don Hepburn, who had briefly been principal of a residential school and had retained a vivid sense of the injustice of that system, went to work.
Together, Richards, Hepburn and other congregation members scoured government archives, identified where the students at the school had come from and contacted elders in those First Nations communities. Always working in consultation with elders, they helped arrange for a series of culturally appropriate memorial feasts, which were attended by hundreds of people, including the Commissioners of the national Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Later, they formed the Remembering the Children Society, which continues to bring together Indigenous people with other Canadians to acknowledge the significance of this episode in Canadian history.
Hepburn was a specialist in Special Education whose work pioneered many of the supports now available to children with special needs in the school system. He served as a teacher, principal, and consultant to families of children with special needs. He also taught special education at the Red Deer College and the University of Alberta. Upon his retirement, Hepburn became an active volunteer for the Central Alberta Historical Society and numerous social justice organizations in Central Alberta. In 2003, the Red Deer Rotary Clubs named Hepburn its Citizen of the Year.
Former Red Deer mayor Morris Flewelling, who has worked alongside Hepburn for nearly 50 years, describes him as “quiet, scholarly and with great sensitivity for all concerned,” and possessing an abiding interest in social justice and a dedication to social development.”
(Sunnybrook United Church)
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