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.
The beat punctuated speeches at the Orange Shirt Day ceremony as children fidgeted with their drums. When the time came, shíshálh children faced their Elders as they began drumming and singing to give them strength for the heavy day – the welcome song reverberated over the crowd of orange surrounding them.
shíshálh Nation members, Elders, residential school survivors and the general public gathered at the Residential School Monument on Sept. 30 to commemorate National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
xwash Steven Feschuk, protector of culture for shíshálh Nation, welcomed hundreds of people who attended. “It's so important that you are here supporting our Elders and our survivors. And when you walk with us, you're walking with our survivors. You're walking with our descendants, you're walking with our children, you're walking with the spirits and the ancestors with us today,” he said. “It means so much that you are here with us.”
xwash explained that the work for Orange Shirt Day started the day before, with a blanketing ceremony and the Healing Hearts project.
“We blanketed our Residential School Monument and we blanketed two chairs,” said xwash. “The chairs are welcoming spirits from the children of residential schools, the spirits of the children that did not survive and the spirits of survivors who did not survive until today.”
Recognizing the survivors and Elders in attendance, xwash also told the crowd that more than 40 shíshálh Elders were in the Fraser Valley that day, at a ceremony for the Mission residential school they were forced to attend as children.
Acknowledging and thanking the crowd, lhe hiwus yalxwemult (Chief Lenora Joe) said she had planned to be in Mission so hehiwus (councillors) Raquel Joe and Rochelle Jones were speaking on behalf of the Nation.
Jones took a moment to acknowledge all of the children who attended St. Augustine’s Indian Residential School, which was open from 1904 to 1975. “We had over 3,500 children pass through those doors. Some made it home, some didn’t.
“Our last three phases of [ground penetrating radar] results, in collaboration with our surviving Elders, found there were 40 unmarked burial sites discovered,” Jones said. The nation announced the findings publicly in April. Jones reiterated that in undertaking the project they never once doubted the stories of survivors. “Our residential school survivors were 100 per cent accurate with their location of the children.”
hiwus Garry Feschuk, whose ancestral name is ?akista xaxanak, thanked everyone for the outpouring of support. “The truth needs to be told,” he said. “It needs to be told, so that it’ll never be forgotten. Never be repeated again.”
Feschuk spoke on the Healing Hearts project, where 651 hearts were carved, painted and personalized to honour survivors and the children. “Those orange hearts were carved by an Elder Frank Dixon. He had it in his heart that he wanted to do something this year for Reconciliation Day. I know he's in Mission, but I really wanted to acknowledge him because every time I went to see him, I could see it in his eyes and the honour that he had that he really wanted to do this project with syiyaya.”
“When he first started carving the hearts, we only had a budget to do 200 hearts, but when I went to see him, he was already at 400. And so he ended up doing 651,” Feschuck said.
Feschuck explained that 51 of the carved hearts are being displayed in tems swiya Museum, each with the name of a First Nation whose children were forced to attend St. Augustine’s residential school in Sechelt.
Invited dignitaries in attendance included MLA Nicholas Simons, MP Patrick Weiler, Sechelt Mayor John Henderson and Gibsons Mayor Silas White (who attended as well as a representative of the Sunshine Coast Regional District) and Kerry Mahlman School District No. 46’s district principal of Indigenous learning.
A carved heart was given to each dignitary, which they were asked to add to the fence beside Friendship Park as a symbol of reconciliation in action. The day before hundreds of other hearts had been affixed to the fence in a ceremony.
“I really want everybody to understand it's not only Reconciliation Day that we walk together, we have to start walking together every day,” Feschuck said.
The ceremony featured singing and drumming, in which shíshálh children participated. The drummers and singers faced their Elders, and performed two songs, the Welcome Song and We are Here.
Many in the crowd were wearing the Nation-commissioned orange shirts with designs from shíshálh artists Charlie Craigan and Manuela Salina. Youth T-shirts had a design from young artist Braelynn Mazur.
The walk for reconciliation followed the ceremony, led by yalxwemult, shíshálh council, Elders and invited dignitaries.
The steady progression of orange made its way down to the waterfront.
xwash explained that part of the walk’s route was the same path children from other First Nations would have been forced to follow from where the Union Steamship docked to the residential school.
“This walk for reconciliation is important. You're showing support, you're walking with our survivors and our ancestors, you're walking with the children,” said xwash.
As the tide of orange made its way along the seawalk, it passed the newly hung orange hearts on the fence alongside mem7iman Child Development Centre and Friendship Park. It concluded at the shíshálh community hall, where xwash strongly encouraged everybody to come and share in a feast, “Share some food before we end our work here today.”
In an interview with Coast Reporter during the feast, yalxwemult shared her experience in the walk.
“It was very emotional. And not just a couple of things made it emotional for me. My grandchildren were walking beside me as we were doing that walk, which they normally do. But this time it was very different than that. I’m lhe hiwus leading the walk, so that was very emotional for me to do that,” she said. “I come from a family of leaders and so that expectation to support the community and lead the community in the right direction is very important to me. So that was very close to my heart today, and I kept thinking about my ancestors while I was on the walk.”
Jordan Copp is the Coast Reporter’s civic and Indigenous affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.
Jordan Copp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Coast Reporter