Hundreds gather across B.C. to honour children lost to residential schools
Walk in North Vancouver one of many events across province marking National Day for Truth and Reconciliation
WARNING: This story contains distressing details.
Hundreds of people attended a pilgrimage Friday in North Vancouver, B.C., that saw residential school survivors, their descendants and community members honouring the children who were taken from their families and forced to attend the institutions.
It was one of numerous events across B.C. marking National Truth and Reconciliation Day on Friday, the second time the day is being commemorated.
In North Vancouver, the walk set off from the site of the former St. Paul's Residential School, heading for the səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nation reserve, a distance of around 8.5 kilometres.
Along the pilgrimage route, community members lined the sidewalks in a "wall of protection" along Main Street. səlilwətaɬ members beat drums and sang songs in memory of the thousands of kids who were at the institution, Metro Vancouver's only residential school.
Stan Thomas, a survivor of the school, said he was heartened to see "new faces" from the community showing up on Friday, after a show of support last year.
"It is overwhelming that you get all the support from the people, who didn't realize that we — ancestors and myself — were sent to residential school and couldn't go home," he said.
Leaders say it's unclear exactly how many children did not come home from the school, but public records show 12 unidentified students died at the institution between 1904 and 1913.
There were numerous disease outbreaks at the school, including smallpox and chickenpox. The Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre says in 1933 the Indian commissioner for British Columbia described the school as a "death-trap" and a "fire-trap."
The residential institution was eventually converted into a day school, which Thomas also attended. Now, it's the site of St. Thomas Aquinas Regional Secondary School, a private Catholic school.
Last year, səlilwətaɬ members walked to the school from the reserve. This year they walked the other way, said Jen Thomas, Stan's daughter and current elected chief of the səlilwətaɬ,
"We're retracing the steps that my dad had to take," she said. "[When] it turned into the St. Paul's Indian Day School, he would have to walk here Sunday night, Sunday afternoons and walk back."
Thomas first went to the school in 1952, when he was six years old.
"It's sad and happy to walk with the people who went to residential [school] … you walk with them and reminisce about little stories right here and there," he said.
"Things like that I remember … are brought back to me. But most of all, it's that the children were taken away from us."
His daughter says reconciliation and justice for the survivors is "not just a one-day thing," and she hoped the truths would help settlers understand what her dad and other survivors went through.
Other events across B.C.
At the University of B.C., an intergenerational march to commemorate Orange Shirt Day was held.
Hundreds of students, Indigenous community members and supporters gathered at the university's Indian Residential School History & Dialogue Centre to listen to Elder Doris Fox from the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) Nation speak.
They later marched along Main Mall to the school's reconciliation totem pole, where two elders from the the Indian Residential School Survivors Society spoke. The event had a solemn atmosphere.
In Prince George, B.C., the Lheidli T'enneh First Nation held a public event at the Lheidli T'enneh Memorial Park bandshell that included storytelling and singing.
More than 1,000 people, most wearing orange, showed up in support and to listen to the drums to honour the children lost to residential schools.
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 survivors and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.
Mental health counselling and crisis support is also available 24 hours a day, seven days a week through the Hope for Wellness hotline at 1-855-242-3310 or by online chat at www.hopeforwellness.ca.
With files from Joel Ballard and Courtney Dickson