Editor’s note: The story below may trigger difficult or traumatic thoughts and memories. The Indian Residential School Survivors Society’s 24-hour crisis line is available at 1-866-925-4419.
A piece of orange cloth is draped over a table. Someone has written “never forget” in black letters. Someone else has drawn the Every Child Matters logo. One day, this cloth will be turned into a quilt, to be brought out at Indigenous ceremonies in the North Thompson Valley.
Today – on Canada’s new Truth and Reconciliation Day, Thursday, Sept. 30 – it is a small way to remember the survivors of residential schools, the ’60s Scoop and to honour the 215 children who didn’t make it at the Kamloops Residential School.
However, Simpcw First Nation Chief Shelly Loring told roughly 100 Indigenous and non-Indigenous members of the North Thompson Valley gathered at the Dutch Lake Community Centre that while the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation is a new federal statutory holiday, it is anything but.
“The connotation of a holiday, it’s something that’s a joyous occasion. It’s something that makes us feel good,” said Loring, who attended the ceremony with Coun. Jules Philip. “Today, I come to you in the most humble way I can, that we have to really look at this day for what it truly is and I don’t want to cast a dark light upon this day, but it really is a day of sadness. It still is a day of mourning.”
The National Day of Truth and Reconciliation was one of the 94 Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. But while the day has now been recognized as a federal statutory holiday, it is just one out of a long list, said Loring, noting it’s “really sad.”
Many of those in attendance survived residential school, Loring noted, and the pain of those people should be recognized as it stays with them every day, no matter how long they attended those institutions.
She also spoke about the term reconciliation, concluding that it means to tell the truth. An unfortunate situation that arose from the Calls to Action, was survivors of residential schools “telling their truth” in front of a legal panel.
“They had to talk about rape, sexual abuse, beatings, pregnancies, starvation, being locked in little boxes because they spoke their language, for days, weeks on end, being deprived of love — that’s the truth they had to speak,” said an audibly and visibly angered Loring.
Loring, a “first-generation survivor” whose mother had attended a residential school, added that while Sept. 30 is a day of mourning, First Nations and Indigenous people are “not here today looking for pity from anybody.” Rather, they welcome support and for those to listen to “their truth.”
After she finished speaking, the Honour Song was performed. Other attendees included District of Clearwater Mayor Merlin Blackwell and councillors and staff, Elders Rose McArthur and Sheila Nyman, and Indigenous community leaders and members, including Cindy Wilgosh, Georgina Leppky, Cheryl Thomas and Bridgette MacDougall. A few Elders and community leaders spoke to the crowd.
Blackwell recognized the events were taking place on the unceded territory of the Simpcwemc, noting they’re “heavy words” and that on a day like National Day of Truth and Reconciliation, it’s important to acknowledge the Elders and community members and their stories.
“This is a very good day,” he said. “Any day that we come somewhere to learn and to listen is a good day and this is the beginning, for a lot of us, of a long-term learning process.”
Booths were set up on the DLCC field with various activities for families and individuals, including a colouring table with temporary tattoos, an area to make beaded bracelets and hair clips and a station to decorate rocks.
“I acknowledge all of you and I think as human beings, making that eye contact, saying ‘Hello’ and acknowledging us as all individuals is one of the most powerful things we can do in the process of healing,” Blackwell said, later cutting his own time short. “I acknowledge that it is my day to listen and learn, just like a lot of you who have come here today. This is a day for myself, council, to learn from the people that have come here today and I thank you.”