Help and support for survivors and their families can be found through the Hope for Wellness Help Line at 1-855-242-3310 or hopeforwellness.ca. A crisis line is also available through Indian Residential School Survivors and Family at 1-866-925-4419.
As hundreds of people wearing bright orange walked the Sechelt waterfront, they came to a pause. In the distance, they could see orcas journeying together. Then, the walk for truth and reconciliation resumed, and the sea of orange continued on.
Many people and generations gathered at the residential school monument on Sept. 30, as shíshálh Nation members, elders, day scholars and residential school survivors spoke. The monument, made of stone estimated to be 80 million years old, was wrapped in a medicine blanket handmade by ti’talus Audrey Joe Santiago. Just as her grandmother before her, she made the blanket with patches inside to carry medicine.
Of the turn out to the events hosted by the Nation, syiyaya Reconciliation Movement and District of Sechelt, xwash Steven Feschuk, the protector of culture, said, “to see the amount of support that's coming out — this amount of support to our people, our elders — it really does truly mean so much to not only myself, but my community, the elders, the survivors, and our residential school people who are no longer with us.”
When hiwus (Chief) Warren Paull addressed the crowd, he recalled a similar “sea of orange” that gathered on Canada Day. He said it showed that the community understands “what has transpired here and what must not ever transpire again.
“The way forward is healing and we begin that work soon. We have … more things to come, there's something coming and we're going to find out about that soon,” Paull continued. “And when that day happens, we will have a day of sadness, but then we'll pick ourselves up and do what we've always done, and that's move forward.”
hiwus Garry Feschuk, whose ancestral name is ?akista xaxanak, thanked all who attended, including Powell River-Sunshine Coast Member of the Legislative Assembly Nicholas Simons and West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country Member of Parliament Patrick Weiler (whose call, he added, he’s still waiting for).
“It is hard, and it's painful,” Feschuk said of sharing what happened at residential schools. “But those stories have to be told. The truth has to be told before there's reconciliation.
“The only chapter that's missing in Canadian history is the genocide that happened in those schools. It has to be recorded now. It cannot be forgotten. You also have to remember it'll never be forgotten with everybody walking with us. We know it'll never be repeated,” he said.
“I thank each and every one of you for coming out today, because when I see the sea of orange, it makes my heart soar.”
During the ceremony, Feschuk, who helped begin the syiyaya Reconciliation Movement while he was the elected hiwus of shíshálh Nation, was presented with a cedar hat woven by Shyanne Watters. He asked everyone to keep five words in mind during the day’s events: “I can make the difference.”
Then, elders and those who survived years in residential school stepped forward to share. They spoke of their stolen language, forgiveness and the beat of the drum — the beat of the heart. Their emotions rippled through the crowd, as did ceremonial smoke.
Of the people who spoke, many wore a new orange shirt design, created by the late ?antuni Tony Paul. He was commissioned for the project last year, but a shortage of in-demand orange t-shirts prevented him from seeing his design worn. His design was inspired by the medicine wheel, and shows hands joined to make hearts — representing love. xwash explained the feathers circling the design symbolize the voice coming back to survivors and their descendants.
A moment of silence was held by all. Then, the walk began with a song.
When the walk for truth and reconciliation began, there were so many people that the beginning and end of the crowd could not be seen at the same time. Together, they walked the path many First Nations children had to travel from where they were dropped off by Union Steamship to the residential school.
“As we are walking that walk, this is our chance to self reflect, our chance to think about what this today means to us and to the survivors and to the children that didn't survive,” xwash said. “This is us, giving a chance to recognize them, to support our people going forward.”
When the crowd once again gathered, this time under the breezeway next to tems swiya Museum, xwash welcomed people from governments, organizations and the many volunteers who have worked together.
“This didn't happen with one individual or one group,” he said. “This took so many people, so many partners, so many friends, so many people from the community to come together to make this a reality.”
Peter Grant, one of the lawyers for shíshálh Nation spoke at length about the work and advocacy of Garry Feschuk on behalf of the day scholars, the intergenerational trauma inflicted on the community and the legal battle to recognize it.
After the acknowledgements, the highway was closed for an opening ceremony.
Thomas Paul Sr., with his great-granddaughter Lindsay August next to him, cut the long orange ribbon that stretched across Highway 101. The Reconciliation Crosswalk was officially open, and the first to walk across were 51 residential school survivors, each holding the hand of a child. The 51 survivors represented the children of 51 First Nations who attended St. Augustine's Indian Residential School in Sechelt.
The idea for the crosswalk, xwash said, came from Garry Feschuk and the grassroots movement after the ground penetrating radar work began on the former grounds of that school. “We wanted to do something that was going to honour our survivors and lift up their spirits,” he said.
The events culminated with a feast of salmon and bread and thanks.
The interactive hak’wat exhibit will remain on display at tems swiya Museum. More information can be found at syiyayareconciliation.ca.