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.
Two vases filled with flowers amidst 70 plastic candles on a round table, surrounded by six stuffed grey elephants, were set to the side at the Katzie Health and Community Centre on Thursday.
Beside each candle was an option for guests of the Katzie First Nation to write a prayer from the heart– possibly for those children who died while attending a residential school in Canada, and also for the ones who survived – a private reflection as the Nation marked the inaugural National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
Orange hearts scrawled with messages of love, hope, empowerment, and encouragement were put up on another wall for all to see.
“My heart goes out to all of you today,” read one. “Now we must join together.”
Another read, “You Matter! We all matter! The time is now to make a change. Send more love and hugs in the world.”
And yet another said, “My children will know your story.”
About 100 people gathered at the centre for the invite-only event that not only included remarks by noteworthy guests and a moment of silence, but also activities to connect children and their families to their cultural roots.
September 30 was designated a federal holiday this year by the Government of Canada to honour children who both survived the residential school system – that saw 140 schools across the country from 1831 to 1998 – and those who did not survive, along with honouring their families and communities.
“Public commemoration of the tragic and painful history and ongoing impacts of residential schools is a vital component of the reconciliation process,” read a government message online about the new day of recognition.
The day is also known as Orange Shirt Day, after the experience of residential school survivor Phyllis Webstad, a Northern Secwepemc (Shuswap) from the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation, who was dressed in a new orange shirt for her first day of school, only to have it taken from her by school officials – making the orange shirt a symbol of the stripping away of culture, freedom, and self esteem that was experience d by Indigenous children.
On Thursday drummers opened the Katzie First Nation event followed by opening remarks by Katzie Chief Grace George, master of ceremonies Councillor David Kenworthy, and CAO Stacey Goulding.
Activities kicked off at 10:30 a.m. with rattle and paddle necklace making, beading, shirt painting, cedar brushing, and a spray painting session with Rain Pierre.
Coleen Pierre led those gathered in a moment of silence at 10:45 a.m.
At 11:15 a.m. Tony Dandurand held a poetry reading.
The afternoon was filled with a story blanket for children, hoop making, rattle making, a Round dance by the Fraser River Indigenous Society, and a Katzie pow wow group.
Len Pierre spoke about what reconciliation means for Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people.
Closing remarks were made by Coun. Kenworthy.
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