Former ?aq?am chief, Sophie Pierre talks about Truth and Reconciliation
Every Child Matters-4 Seasons of Reconciliation monthly virtual gatherings now underway
By Chadd Cawson Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
“It’s what needs to be done,” said Sophie Pierre former chief of ?Aq?am. “It can meet the holes that have been left in our education system for so long. It is nice that we have this opportunity for more learning, particularly around Indigenous issues and Canada’s history.”
Pierre was referring to the Every Child Matters – 4 Seasons of Reconciliation learning opportunity and journey, which embarked on February 15, and runs until June 25. Pierre was welcomed as the guest speaker for the first virtual gathering which aired live on Feb. 23 at 4:30 p.m. MST. Duncan Whittick, executive director of Columbia Basin Environmental Education Network (CBEEN) and co-founder of Every Child Matters Year-long Learning Challenge said 1,000 were expected to be in attendance.
“Sophie is an incredible Ktunaxa elder and leader who is highly respected, and has done so much towards supporting Ktunaxa knowledge, culture, and people,” said Whittick. “We have worked with Sophie on other things over the years – she was one of our keynotes at our 2018 National Environmental Education Conference held at St. Eugene, and as a Ktunaxa language speaker, she has also been a guest at the Ktunaxa language sessions we are helping to facilitate.”
Before introducing Pierre, Jenna Jasek, who piloted Every Child Matters: 4 Seasons of Reconciliation learning opportunity in partnership with Reconciliation Education and First Nations University last year, said Pierre has always been one of her role models. Pierre received the Order of British Columbia in 2002 and the National Aboriginal Achievement Award in 2003. She was appointed chief commissioner of the BC Treaty Commission from April 2009 to 2015, by agreement of the Governments of Canada, and British Columbia (B.C.) and the First Nations Summit. She was also recognized with the Order of Canada in 2016. She also spoke to the importance of learning from the land.
“The land is really our greatest teacher,” said Jasek. “When we learn from the land it really does help us understand the people, and the languages where we are. Being a part of truth and reconciliation just weaves together so beautifully with learning how important the land is, and how much beautiful stories can be told with our eco-systems, and everything around us.”
The nation learned the horrors of what was beneath the land when the 215 unmarked graves of children who attended Kamloops Indian Residential School (KIRS) were uncovered in late May of 2021. Pierre attended St. Eugene’s Residential School which was just north of Cranbrook; it opened in 1890 and didn’t close until 1970.
“I know that felt like a real kick in the gut. Most Canadians couldn’t believe it,” said Pierre. “It was hard to believe. As Indigenous Peoples, we know how hard it is for everyone to believe because this is the message we have been giving for decades, and no one believed it.”
Pierre spoke on the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and how out of the four volumes that were released, most are unaware that the third was dedicated solely to stories on residential schools and missing children. She spoke on how the lands and rights of Indigenous Peoples were dismissed under the doctrine of discovery and why Canadian laws were written the way they were and how residential schools came about, and the trauma caused by them, and how they were allowed under the Indian Act which still exists today.
“When laws were being written there was a realization that for true colonization of the country to exist, it was necessary that the spirit and the culture, and the language of Indigenous Peoples could not continue. It is important that we are starting with truth, in order to move into reconciliation,” said Pierre.
Chadd Cawson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Columbia Valley Pioneer