For many on the Sunshine Coast this week marks a time of anticipation, the joy of a new school year, a chance to connect with old friends and, above all, the opportunity to learn in a safe and nurturing environment.
However, for many First Nations people in Canada, such was not the case. Their school memories are of hunger, physical cruelty and sexual abuse. Out of those memories came the largest class action case in Canada’s history. Thirty years after the last school closed, the spectre of residential schools and their horrifying aftermath continues to haunt our nation.
Candace Campo, a member of the shíshálh (Sechelt) Nation, talked about the impact of this legacy on her people.
“I see it as important to bring awareness and public attention to our Sunshine Coast community that the First Nations generations before my own had endured incredible hardship and abuse during their childhood as a result of attending residential school … Much of the public may never know the gruesome details, systematic and personal abuses towards children,” she said.
During the week of Sept. 16, B.C. residents — First Nations people and others — will have an opportunity to face this legacy through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission National Gathering (TRC).
To date some survivors, those who lived in residence at the schools, have seen some compensation for their sufferings. But for most day scholars of the schools, many of whom were shíshálh people, it’s the first time they will have a chance to have their stories heard, an important fact for Sechelt Chief Garry Feschuk.
“My thought on the TRC, on the event, is that the day scholars are included in the event and get to tell their stories of what they went through. I support the survivors, and the day scholars are finally included in the process, as they seek redress on abuses that they endured while attending residential school,” he wrote in a text.
The events in Vancouver, beginning with a sacred fire at Ambleside Beach on Sept. 16, are an opportunity for all citizens to bear witness to the survivors’ stories.
Because of the role of the United Church and that of three others (Anglican, Catholic and Presbyterian) named in the residential school lawsuit, and the sorrow that invoked for her, local United Church minister Janice Young has been involved with the TRC process since 2006. To her, the TRC events are an important element for the future of all Canadians.
“First Nations run a gamut on a healing journey. [The aftermath of residential schools] is really, really hard for a lot of people. Today [the first day of school] is probably a really shitty day for a lot of people. It raises all sorts of horrible memories. Everybody needs to come and hear their stories — not just church people,” Young said.
Included in the event in Vancouver will be an all-Nations canoe gathering on Sept. 17 at Kits Point next to the Olympic Village. Young will be a member of the crew in a canoe from the Sunshine Coast. There will be a welcoming ceremony to Coast Salish lands.
For Young, who has participated in Pulling Together, a week-long canoe journey held yearly to foster relations between at-risk youngsters, First Nations people and law enforcement officers, the canoe ceremony is a highlight.
“I think Pulling Together is the epitome of reconciliation. It’s an opportunity for all of us to get to know each other” she said.
For Campo, who owns her own kayak company, paddling has been a way to raise money to sponsor day scholars’ travel to Vancouver for the TRC events.
For while all events are free to all people, there is still a cost to get to Vancouver and to stay there. Anyone wanting to donate to this cause can do so by sending a cheque to Bruce & Boivin Consulting Group Inc., 70 Arthur Street, Suite 440, Winnipeg, Man. R3B 1G7. Indicate on the cheque memo line “Survivor food vouchers.”
Included in the week’s events will be a march on Sunday, Sept. 22, from Vancouver Public Library to Creekside Park. Billed as an opportunity to bring Canada’s many cultures to walk a path together in a shared commitment to reconciliation, the walk is expected to bring many thousands of people to the downtown core.
It is important to Campo that all survivors have a chance to go to this healing event. The TRC is about “acknowledging our survivors and standing with them as we march together and paddle to a better future.”
She said while after-effects from the school such as anxiety, low esteem and post-traumatic depression are still present, her community is working hard to change this.
The majority of the TRC events will take place at the PNE grounds on Hastings Street from Sept. 18 to 21. Registration is requested if you are a residential school survivor wanting to speak, if you would like to volunteer during the events or be part of the walk. Go to www.reconciliation
canada.ca for details and to register.
The Vancouver TRC event is the sixth of seven that will culminate in Ottawa next year. A final report by the TRC commission will likely take a further two years to complete.