Kamloops schools hold first-ever district-wide powwow

·2 min read
Dancers pictured at the School District 73 powwow event at the Tk̓emlúps Powwow Arbour on May 25. (Jenifer Norwell/CBC - image credit)
Dancers pictured at the School District 73 powwow event at the Tk̓emlúps Powwow Arbour on May 25. (Jenifer Norwell/CBC - image credit)

Schools in B.C.'s Kamloops-Thompson region held their first district-wide powwow, two days after the memorial marking one year since the discovery of potential unmarked graves at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.

On Wednesday, hundreds of students from Grades 4 and 5 participated in the School District 73 powwow at the Tk̓emlúps Powwow Arbour. The event was originally scheduled for May 2020, but was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The district principal for Aboriginal Education, Mike Bowden, said schools had done smaller powwows individually before they decided to organize a district-wide event celebrating the Tk̓emlúps te Secwépemc culture.

"It's quite amazing," Bowden said. "It's about sharing of culture, it's about connecting, it's about walking alongside each other."

Jenifer Norwell/CBC
Jenifer Norwell/CBC

On Monday, the Tk̓emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation held a memorial at the Powwow Arbour to honour the 215 children whose lives were lost while being forced to attend residential school, whom the nation has come to refer to as Le Estcwicwe̓y̓ — The Missing.

"With heavy hearts, we also acknowledge that this is a week of Le Estcwicwe̓y̓ and the 215 [children] discovery a year ago," Bowden said.

The school district powwow provided an opportunity for children of all backgrounds to learn about Indigenous culture — including singing, dancing and drumming.

Laila Martin, a Grade 5 student from Arthur Hatton Elementary school, said she enjoyed getting together with friends and classmates in person at the event.

"I like how we get down around in the circle," Martin said. "We finally get to do a powwow since COVID, so it's really cool."

Jenifer Norwell/CBC
Jenifer Norwell/CBC

Grade 9 student Ella Daniels, also a member of the Tk̓emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation, wore what she described as a healing dress, which she says First Nations women wear to perform dances intended to comfort people experiencing any form of pain.

"To be able to dance in front of people is pretty good," Daniels said. "All I do is for healing — I just pray and have fun, and just enjoy my time out there."

Jenifer Norwell/CBC
Jenifer Norwell/CBC

School District 73 says it hopes to make the district-wide powwow an annual event.

Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools or by the latest reports.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.

Do you have information about unmarked graves, children who never came home or residential school staff and operations? Email your tips to CBC's new Indigenous-led team investigating residential schools: WhereAreThey@cbc.ca.

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