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A ‘sombre’ reflection: National Day of Truth and Reconciliation observed in Clearwater

The North Thompson Aboriginal Cultural Centre and the DOC pay tribute to children and survivors
North Thompson Aboriginal Cultural Centre volunteers at Dutch Lake Community Centre pictured left to right: Danielle Desjarlais, Executive Director of the North Thompson Aboriginal Cultural Centre - Cindy Wilgosh, Joe Desjarlais, Brandon Desjarlais, Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo, MP – Frank Caputo, and Lindsay MacInnes. (Photo by: Hettie Buck)

The third annual National Day for Truth and Reconciliation was a full day of remembrance, honour and respect in Clearwater on Sept. 30, with events hosted throughout the day by the North Thompson Aboriginal Cultural Centre (NTACC).

Following weeks of planning, the day started with the Community Farmers’ Market in the field at Dutch Lake Community Centre, where vendors gathered throughout the summer season. A special booth sponsored by the NTACC was decorated with a variety of orange T-shirts and education materials, and sponsored by members of the society ready to share information and history.

“This day is a time to honour the children who died, suffered abuse in residential schools and those that never returned to their families after being forcefully taken away from home. We are here to honour them and their families today,” said Cindy Wilgosh, executive director of the NTACC.

The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is designated as a time to honour survivors and their families, marking the emotion-filled day on Sept. 30 as “Orange Shirt Day” since 2013 and promoting the theme of “Every Child Matters.” The orange shirt symbolizes the stripping away of culture, freedom and self-esteem that Indigenous children experienced when pulled from their homes and sent to residential schools.

Amongst the visitors to the full day of events in Clearwater was Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo MP Frank Caputo, dressed in a bright orange sweater and tie. He has attended each year since the event started three years ago in Clearwater.

Caputo praised the NTACC and the dedication of Wilgosh.

“Cindy has done a truly beautiful job organizing the event once again. It takes so much planning to do something like this. It’s a sombre time to reflect together. I really appreciate being invited each year.”

Cheryl Thomas, longtime director for the NTACC, walked out with her daughter Kim to greet Caputo. She spoke with him about the day’s events, explaining that there would be a blanket dance to honour a beloved elder, Rose McArthur, in remembrance of her work in the North Thompson. “Her family has travelled to be with us, drum, sing and dance in honour of their mother and grandmother.”

Guests pre-registered for the “gifted” dinner that followed in the early evening, catered by Gateway Grill. The gymnasium was aglow in orange, with the majority of attendees wearing the colour respectfully, and there was a drumming song performed by Rose McArthur’s son Tim Edwards, her daughter-in-law, and a grandson who opened the ceremony with an honour song.

The gymnasium was decorated with a special moose hide rug at the centre of the floor, displaying many children’s shoes and wooden handmade teddy bears in honour of the missing children from the residential schools.

A day prior to the event, on Sept. 29, there was a respectful flag-raising outside the District of Clearwater office. Wilgosh raised the Truth and Reconciliation orange and white flag (purchased as a gift to First Nations by the district) at the front of the community centre, alongside the Canadian flag. Wilgosh shared the meaning behind Orange Shirt Day, quoting well-known Canadian residential school survivor Phyllis Webstad.

“When you wear an orange shirt it’s like a little bit of justice for us Survivors in our lifetime, and recognition of a system we can never allow again.”

Following the sumptuous buffet-style dinner, in the hospitable tradition of local NTACC events, guests gathered back at their tables to hear Elder Rose McArthur’s daughter Charlene Cuthbert share memories of her mother, describing her as a “strong person, an example to us growing up.” Cuthbert captivated the audience, including many children present, with her story passed down through generations of the Coyote “trickster”, encouraging the children to respond interactively during the tale. She received a warm round of applause when she thanked everyone for listening, saying “We will be back next year again and in the years to come,” and expressed her family’s gratitude to the crowd in memory of their mother, Rose.

The evening continued with the blanket dance honouring McArthur, more drumming, singing and dancing, inspiring tears from family and friends remembering this vibrant community member.

Wilgosh closed the long day of culture and tradition and thanked everyone with emotion as she said reverently, “It’s always nice to be together, to socialize, to enjoy a delicious meal, but we are here to remember those innocent children and be sure they are never forgotten. Thank you for this day of love and respect in memory of them all.”

District of Clearwater Mayor Merlin Blackwell (centre) with DOC staff and North Thompson Aboriginal Cultural Centre members at a flag-raising on Sept. 28 in honour of National Truth and Reconciliation Day. (Photo by: Zephram Tino)
Canadian flag and Truth and Reconciliation flag flying at Dutch Lake Community Centre on Sept. 28. (Photo by: Zephram Tino)
Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo MP Frank Caputo kneeling in honour of National Truth and Reconciliation Day on Sept. 30 at the Dutch Lake Community Centre in Clearwater, as a guest of the North Thompson Aboriginal Cultural Centre event. (Photo by: Hettie Buck)
(from l) MP Frank Caputo; NTACCS Executive Director Cindy Wilgosh; and Eagle’s Nest Manager Georgina Leppky listening to honour drummers at the National Truth and Reconciliation event on Sept. 30 at the Dutch Lake Community Centre. (Photo by: Hettie Buck)
Phyllis Webstad speaks to a class in Alberta in 2022 about her experiences in residential school and explaining the meaning of Orange Shirt Day, which is recognized on Sept. 30. Webstad, from the Stswecem’c Xget’tem First Nation, wore an orange shirt gifted to her by her grandmother on her first day at St. Joseph Mission Residential School in British Columbia, but the shirt was taken from her. (Photo by: Ben Powless - Canadian Geographic)
Remembrance photo honouring beloved elder Rose McArthur in Clearwater at the Dutch Lake Community Centre Truth and Reconciliation event on Sept. 30. (Photo by: Hettie Buck)