After the tears were wiped there was an underlying sense of resilience on the grounds of the former Lejac Residential School near Fraser Lake.
A three-day healing ceremony in the traditional territory of Nadleh’ Whut’en attracted hundreds paying remembrance to the 215 children found buried on the grounds of a former Kamloops residential school and others who did not make it home.
“We still have heart, we still have our culture, we still have our language,” Carrier Sekani Family Services executive director of child and family services, Mary Teegee said before a closing song Sunday, June 20.
“They may have weakened us, but they never ever broke us, and the reason that we’re not broken and the reason that we will always stand here is that we are the wind, we are the rain, we are the sun, we are the storm — we are the Earth and we will be here forever.”
Making the approximate eight hour drive to attend the ceremony was Splatsin Kukpi7 (Chief) Wayne Christian, who said he was asked to come by Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Kukpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir.
Casimir announced last month the First Nation in Kamloops had used ground-penetrating radar to find the remains of more than 200 children.
“As one of the colleagues or as a fellow Kukpi7 (Chief) of the Secwepemc she asked me to come here and let people know what’s going on and how important this is, and what the community and nations is doing here is what everybody needs to be doing,” Christian said.
“Start that process of healing and going to those places like Lejac and others where the residential schools operated and do that process of letting go.”
Doris Louis, originally from Stellaquo, was four years old when she was taken away from her parents to attend Lejac from 1958 to 1969.
She said the three-day healing ceremony helped as she got to meet people she never thought she would see again.
“There is so much pain when you think of things that happened in the Indian Residential Schools in Lejac, Kamloops and others,” Louis added.
“My two sisters attended Kamloops Indian Residential School, and I thought about them when the news broke. One is still alive and the other passed away last year. I was shocked, I was hurt, I was angry but the reality is that we knew all along that children had passed, and children had been abused and had suffered horrendously.”
Christian said anger was the first reaction by everyone, including survivors of residential schools and inter-generational trauma.
It is that very anger that he said he has been telling others to turn into action.
“Those things they took we need to start taking back. You can’t just sit in the anger because that will consume us,” Christian said. “The healing and what’s going on here is really important to where we need to go because nobody is going to heal us but us and it’s really important.”
Vanderhoof Mayor Gerry Thiessen said people need to acknowledge the reality of what happened.
“I think there are still people in our communities that don’t acknowledge the huge impact residential schools have had generation after generation,” Thiessen said.
“So to us, we need to first of all not accept that, and not remain silent. We need to be supportive of what courts have already ruled that the Indigenous have rights and titles. We need to acknowledge that we have a very awful history with residential schools and the impact that has had on our First Nations people is devastating.”
Skeena-Bulkley Valley Member of Parliament (MP), Taylor Bachrach said he was there to show his support for his neighbours and those who have been hurting in wake of the discovery near Kamloops, as well as to learn, listen, and try to understand more fully the depth of what happened.
In parliament, calls are being made on the federal government to fund searches of every residential school site across Canada immediately.
“It’s among the calls to action put forth by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and it’s long overdue,” Bachrach said. “Communities have been calling for that support for a long time, and after the discovery near Kamloops it needs to be done immediately, and I am hopeful that right now there’s enough attention on the issue that support will be coming forward, but we’re going to keep pushing hard for it and ensure that people get the truth and know what happened to their loved ones.”
For BC Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Terry Teegee, a concerted plan and effort are needed to implement all 94 Calls to Action identified by the TRC.
Resources and support for mental health and healing are also needed for Indigenous people.
“Canada itself needs to heal with this terrible past, so perhaps it’s much more than just the Indigenous people in this country,” Teegee said.
“Genocide is imposed on Indigenous peoples, and that’s a terrible history to reconcile.”