About one hundred Indigenous people from communities throughout the Cariboo Chilcotin region gathered to perform a traditional ceremony at the site of the former St. Joseph’s Mission Sunday, June 13.
Led by the Tsilhqot’in First Nation of Tl’etinqox (Anaham), Chief Joe Alphonse said the event was open to all and was held at the former residential school site, located just south of Sugar Cane in the T’exelc caretaker area, to honour the 215 children found at the Kamloops residential school, and also for anyone impacted by the schools and feeling the need to visit the area.
A closed ceremony was held at the site the week prior for spiritual leaders representing all nations in the region organized by Williams Lake First Nation.
“We are here today because we want to be here,” Alphonse said. “There is a need to do this, to come back. I would like to see an annual event … to change the energy of the ground here.”
Alphonse said the news of the findings in Kamloops has impacted people in different ways. He has heard from his membership the desire to attend the site in person to see one another and share their past experiences, to drum and sing and to connect with their ancestors.
The four-hour event included smudging, an opening circle ceremony and emotional speeches where residential school survivors spoke of their personal experiences. Edith Wycotte recalled her attempts of trying to run away from the school at the age of 10. Another elder shared that his biggest regret in life was volunteering as a child to go the residential school because their older sibling was there. Another elder was choked up with emotion as she spoke of carrying the guilt as a parent of allowing her child to go to the residential school.
Alphonse reassured those who shared their difficult stories that residential schools were not their fault and to release themselves of any guilt they were carrying to heal and move forward. He encouraged drumming and singing at the site to remind their ancestors that they are remembered.
As well as singing, members also participated in a ceremony where they braided ribbons to make a six-foot-round dream catcher woven with string tied with pouches of tobacco filled by those in attendance. The material was created while all were laughing and visiting at the start of the ceremony and was, at the end of the ceremony, offered to the sacred fire. A food offering was offered, and those in attendance also shared lunch together.
Alphonse thanked the women’s council of Tl’etinqox for organizing the event.