Together, Shuswap residents gathered at Salmon Arm’s Marine Peace Park Thursday took a step towards truth and reconciliation.
The gathering at the park gazebo was one of two events organized in Salmon Arm on Sept. 30 for the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation/Orange Shirt Day.
The event at the park was organized by Lyndsey Leon with Erica Seymour who, just after 1 p.m., welcomed the large crowd of people gathered around the gazebo stage, many carrying umbrellas and most wearing orange shirts.
“This is the first step towards truth and reconciliation,” said an emotional Seymour. “We wear orange to support the survivors and the ones that are still here today and I’m so grateful that we can have one of our elders here bless us with a prayer.”
Before beginning her prayer, Splatsin elder Ethel Thomas, who was given centre stage, explained how when she watches her grandchildren she will wonder about their future, and if they’ll be “fighting the same fight that we’re fighting with the government.”
“I hope not,” said Thomas. “Today I have that hope that things will be better for each and every one of our children because they are our next leaders and if we can come together as one, not separate, I believe that we will move forward in a positive way. That is my hope for my children.”
“When I say my children, that includes all of you.”
After Thomas’ prayer, Adams Lake band Tk’wemi’ple7 (Councillor) Joyce Kenoras was welcomed to speak to the crowd.
“We’re here to honour the legacy of the residential school and those survivors, of which my mother and my grandmother are part of,” said Kenoras. “And as hard as it is for us, we come here to honour them, to remember them, and to recall the things that went on during those dark days.
“But now, today, as we start to remember the truths that are behind all of this, it is time for us to make amends, it is time for us to move forward.”
Kenoras spoke of the estimated 6,000 children believed to have died at residential schools, and the more than 1,300 unmarked graves that have recently been uncovered.
“I’m so grateful today, our little children, yours and ours, don’t have to go through this,” said Kenoras. “Let us all, today, make a strong and firm commitment to walk together for all of our beautiful children. They are what matter, that is the reason why we are here.”
Speaking after Kenoras, Splatsin Tkwamipla7 (Councillor) Doug Thomas, Ethel’s son, focused on the words “truth” and “reconciliation” and their meaning. He said the truth part involves reflecting on what happened in residential schools and sharing the stories of what occurred at them.
“Look on social media – there are still many Canadians that don’t believe these stories,” said Doug. “They still believe my grandparents generation had some power to stop this from happening, to stop these kids from being taken away. But that wasn’t the case; they faced jail time if they kept their kids back. The things that happened in these schools were an atrocity.”
The reconciliation portion, said Doug, will be the healing and getting those stories out, and into schools, and “getting rid of the boundaries that exist.”
“When you come to Splatsin or come to the edge of Salmon Arm, there are very distinct boundaries that should not be,” said Doug. “We’ve got to become one people because we are all residents of this land.”
Along with acknowledging the survivors of residential schools, Doug also recognized those who couldn’t be there.
“My mom had seven brothers and six of them are in the graveyard now, because of a lot of the things they had to live with as a result of these schools that were meant to take away the native in every one of us,” said Doug. “And when you think about the long, rich history of the people that were here for thousands of years – It’s a sad part of history and each and every one of you have the power to change that…”
“They say every long journey begins with a step, and you all took the step to try and understand our history better, and this is how we’re going to reconcile in the end.”
The gathering at the park concluded with a drumming ceremony led by Brock Thomas. Afterwards, everyone at the park was encouraged to go the Salmon Arm Arts Centre at 2 p.m. where another gathering took place in recognition of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
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