A ceremony full of sadness and hope took place at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School on May 23, to mark the one-year anniversary of the more than 215 graves of children as young as three years old being discovered.
People gathered for a sunrise ceremony at 5 a.m. to start the day.
Opening statements and prayer truly began the ceremony at 9 a.m.
Canada’s Governor General Mary Simon, the first of Indigenous descent, was in attendance alongside politicians from every level of government.
“It shouldn’t have taken that long,” Simon said in regards to the discovery of the graves one year ago. “But finally people know, and knowing has transformed this community. People have made pilgrimages here to pay their respects, to say they’re sorry, to show their support.”
Kúkpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir dressed in full regalia for the day.
“There are many next steps that need to occur with the church,” Casimir stated. “That’s mandates from the highest level. That’s from the Pope to mandate through the Catholic Bishops of Canada right down to the local diocese and working with first nations as we seek truth, as we move forward, as we seek fundraising, as we seek all those steps that are listed on the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action.”
The chief also spoke of her visit in March to the Vatican, where she met with Pope Francis and hand-delivered an invitation to visit Tk’emlúps when he comes to Canada in late July. However, the pope’s itinerary does not include B.C.; instead, he will visit Quebec City, Edmonton and Iqaluit.
“I am disappointed the pope is not coming here. I really am. I advocated very hard,” Casimir said.
She did say she is pleased the pope will be on Canadian soil.
Drums boomed and voices echoed while attendees sang traditional Indigenous songs in the Pow-wow Arbour to remember the missing - Le Estcwicwéy.
The ceremony continued into the afternoon with giveaways, a dance of healing, and a moment of silence for the children who died while attending the residential school.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spent much of the afternoon and evening at a memorial. He had faced widespread criticism last September when he did not attend national reconciliation day ceremonies in Kamloops.
Last May, Kúkpi7 (Chief) Casimir said a war graves expert using ground-penetrating radar found what are believed to be the remains of up to 215 people buried at an unmarked site at the former school.
Since the remains of up to 215 people buried at an unmarked site at the former school were discovered last May, the detection of hundreds more suspected graves connected to residential schools across Canada followed, amid a year of reckoning over the legacy of residential schools for Indigenous children.
Kamloops school survivors say the past year was an emotional journey that included reawakened trauma, catharsis and, for some, closure.
~With files from Kamloops This Week