Reconciliation in action is how several people described the raising of the Secwepemculecw flag at Okanagan College’s Salmon Arm campus on Monday.
Secwepemc elders, chiefs, band councillors and community members, Okanagan College staff, students and more were present Sept. 23 as the flag was given a permanent home on the campus.
Describing it as an historic day, Okanagan College president Jim Hamilton said raising the flag gives permanent recognition to the traditional and unceded Secwepemc land where the people present live, work and study.
Joan Ragsdale, dean of the Shuswap-Revelstoke campus, explained that one of the college’s goals is to create a welcoming, respectful and culturally meaningful learning environment.
She said the flag-raising represents another step in the reconciliation process.
“It’s important for education systems to recognize past wrongs, and to look to how we work together to create a better future…”
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Kukpi7 (Chief) Wayne Christian of the Splatsin Band acknowledged the Secwepemc ancestors and their present-day descendants.
“Our blood has been running in this part of the territory and on the land for thousands of year. It’s in us today…”, he said, expressing his appreciation for the college’s raising of the flag.
He said the significance of the flag going up marks the recognition that the Secwepemc people have always been on the land.
“In the era of reconciliation, it’s not about talk, it’s about action. This is taking action.”
He pointed out that Canada is a diverse country, “founded on the Indian nations, the French and the English. All three nations brought Canada into existence and it’s important you recognize that. That’s why raising the flag is so important.”
He encouraged those present to think about what they could do to take action regarding reconciliation.
Kukpi7 Judy Wilson of the Neskonlith Band also spoke of the importance of history, noting that on first contact with Europeans, there were estimated to be about 100,000 Secwepemc people, but with the last two small pox epidemics the number went down to between 2,000 and 3,000.
Now it’s back up to about 10,000 registered, although there could be more who haven’t been counted.
“When you talk about the path to reconciliation you need to know our history and know where we’re going…,” Wilson said.
She suggested people read about the history, such as the document Secwepemc chiefs signed in 1910 to Wilfred Laurier, then head of the Dominion of Canada.
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Wilson provided a template for the future: “It’s really about how we treat each other, how we respect each other and how we are able to make a better future for each other, based on taking care of the Mother Earth, taking care of the water, taking care of the salmon, taking care of the plants and animals, and making sure we don’t leave anybody behind. It’s not right in a community to have homeless people or have people who are going hungry.”
Kukpi7 Cliff Arnouse of the Adams Lake Band said the Secwepemc are known as the “people of the land.”
“People who look after the birds, fish, plants, and we have to look after that if we’re going to survive together,” he said.
He had some advice for the students. “Work hard, look after the land and know where you come from.”
Coun. Wes Francois of the Little Shuswap Lake Indian Band, who attended in place of Kukpi7 Oliver Arnouse, spoke of people sharing and protecting the land. He said now is the time of year when people share the college.
He recounted when he was 18 and came from the reserve to the college, collected some knowledge and is now sharing it back to his people.
In keeping with the value of sharing, after Secwepemc elders helped raise the flag with assistance from the wind, bannock and other foods were shared with the ceremony guests.