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Gathering in Salmon Arm honours ‘tiny ancestors’ at Kamloops residential school site

People gather to honour children who died, speaker urges participants to never forget them

This article contains content about residential schools that may be triggering.

“So those of you that are here today, please, we ask you, not to bury these children again under history books or text books.”

These were the words of Melanie Jansen, who organized a gathering at Marine Park in Salmon Arm on June 2 at the request of a young Indigenous girl, in order to honour the 215 children whose remains were found at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.

She emphasized that the finding of the remains is not history.

“It’s happening. We have survivors here with us today. We have people who have lost people in their family in the residential schools here with us today. We have people that know those people. It’s happening right now. It is not history,” she said.

“It is our real life every moment that we breathe. It’s happening. And the fact that 215 little babies were just found is devastating.”

She said ceremonies and sacred fires have been happening at the Kamloops residential school “because they want to help our tiny ancestors cross over the way they should have a long time ago.”

The gathering was to honour the children, as well as their families, and the families that have been affected because they are relatives or they went to the school.

“We’re here to honour those people and we are here to make sure that this part of our lives, this part of our Indigenous history, this journey that we walk right now, that it is not forgotten. That these kids aren’t forgotten in a month, or six months, or next year.

“We need to make sure that this is something people know about, are educated about, how devastating it was,” Jansen continued.

“Canada is an amazing place to live and we all know that. But it has got some history that puts blood on the flag, and we cannot, we cannot forget that, we cannot pretend it didn’t happen.”

Read more: VIDEO: Canadian outpouring over residential schools can bring healing, says survivor

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Jansen urged people to always remember the children.

“We need to keep them in the forefront of our mind because our people need to heal…and we do that together as a nation, as Canada.”

She pointed to the dozens of people present at the park, all because they felt it in their hearts to be there and support.

“I’m asking you to remember always. To teach your children, your family. To teach the friends that don’t know about this.”

Elder Jules Arnouse offered a prayer and spoke about his life as a Survivor of the Kamloops residential school.

He said he was there about nine years. He said beatings and straps happened every other day.

“But you never cried, and we never gave up and we carried on. I listened to my older brother. He said, ‘Don’t cry, that’s what they want to see.’ At that time I didn’t. It took me over 50, 60 years to cry. I had to go to Edmonton to a treatment centre.”

He said a woman there helped him, and he is now calm inside again, without anger.

“I really appreciate that lady.”

Arnouse said he saw bones near an incinerator at the school, which his friend told the teacher about.

He said today there is no evidence the incinerator was once there. The area is cemented over like the gazebo at Marine Park and there are picnic tables and green grass.

“I’m glad to be able to talk about it,” he said.

Following the prayer, Lenny Billy and Ty Norman drummed and sang the Ancestor Song.

Then the gathering grew quiet, as two minutes and 15 seconds of silence were observed in honour of the children.

Despite the 30-degree heat, several Indigenous dancers in regalia, both children and adults, performed a healing dance, followed by another inter-tribal dance which members of the public were invited to join.
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Martha Wickett

About the Author: Martha Wickett

came to Salmon Arm in May of 2004 to work at the Observer. I was looking for a change from the hustle and bustle of the Lower Mainland, where I had spent more than a decade working in community newspapers.
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