About 70 people, around half of whom were children, made a pensive walk from Tsawout First Nation’s building to the nearby Pat Bay Highway overpass on Friday.
The walk was held to support those affected by the recent discovery of the remains of 215 children at Kamloops, and to heal as an Indigenous community.
“The importance of today is just to honour the resiliency and the power of our children and of our elders,” said Tsawout education manager Christine Bird.
|Tsawout First Nation education manager and one coordinator of the march, Christine Bird, on the Pat Bay Highway overpass. (Kiernan Green/News Staff)
A steady drumbeat brought up the end of the orange procession, which met a commotion of honks from about every third vehicle at Mount Newton X Road’s intersection with the highway. As rain started to fall about an hour later the group dissipated, and marchers observed a bald eagle carrying a large branch fly overhead.
“One of the first things the government of Canada can do is stop lying about their role in the residential school system, and acknowledge that it’s criminal what has happened to our children,” Bird said.
She was glad that ground-penetrating radar determined what residential school survivors had known for generations; that the true number of children killed by the Canadian-funded institution was far greater than originally reported.
“Non-Indigenous people value scientific facts, and this is not one that they can escape,” Bird said. “Today is about acknowledging that Canada is criminally responsible for the 215 deaths, (and) that’s just one school.”
Lillian Underwood, a Tsawout manager and a member of Kluane First Nation in the Yukon, said she’d heard stories of Vancouver Island’s residential schools; elders living in the Tsawout reservation testified to children being pushed from windows and priests selecting students for sexual abuse by drawing numbers from a hat.
“Canada has finally been awakened to that reality” after framing residential school survivors as liars, Underwood said.
“Our elders have been saying this for probably 100 years now,” said Bird. “It’s something that we all live with as children and grandchildren of (residential school) survivors.”
Underwood, her mother, late father and late father-in-law each attended a residential school. Her daughter Asheya, 17, is the first generation of her family to not attend a residential school, Underwood said.
“I’m hoping that more investigations will go into all the other residential schools right across Canada, and each will be searched for bodies that still need to be found,” she said.
Wayne Helgason, interim band manager for Tsawout First Nation, said he was confident that, “in our own small way,” the demonstration at the overpass will “help people to join with us in insisting – without exception – that these things are dealt with.”
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