School District 83 and the City of Salmon Arm have joined the wave of condolences being offered across the country following confirmation of the remains of children at the Kamloops Indian Residential School.
Anne Tenning, district principal of Indigenous Education & Curriculum for the North Okanagan-Shuswap School District, said in an email to the Observer that many students and staff are wearing orange shirts today (Monday, May 31) in recognition of the devastating news that came out Friday, May 28. She said schools are organizing Orange Shirt Days for different days throughout the week.
Assistant superintendent Ryan Brennan stated on the District 83 website that each school will be contacting their families with details about their day. He encouraged everyone to wear orange then to show their support.
Tenning offered information about being sensitive to what people are going through.
“I have sent a message to school leaders to ask that they please be gentle with Indigenous Education staff this week. For many of us, this news represents our lived experiences. The grief is overwhelming. My mother, Elizabeth Tenning, is a survivor of the Kuper Island Residential School. She was horrifically abused at that school. Residential schools have impacted my entire family. Many of our staff members are in the same situation,” she wrote.
She said it is important that people address the news with students in a way that does not traumatize them.
“My advice on how to do this: it is important to talk about the dark history of Canada. It is important to talk about how it impacted First Nations people then and now. It is important to infuse a sense of hope. It is important to talk about what we can all do. Death is a really tough topic for children. Keep it age appropriate – especially details about how the children died/the abuse they suffered. Don’t let the students feel like any of this is their fault.”
The district is going to offer access to counselling for staff, for anyone struggling with the news.
Tenning said some schools are offering smudging for students and staff. A group of student pow wow dancers is going to dance at the Salmon Arm wharf at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, June 2. Sacred fires have been lit in local Secwépemc communities.
The Ministry of Education has asked that flags be lowered at all districts throughout B.C. until further notice as a sign of respect.
Similarly, the City of Salmon Arm has lowered its flags.
“Our flags will be lowered to honour the 215 young lives lost. We will continue to reach out to our local First Nations neighbours to share our condolences and offer of support,” reads the city’s Facebook page.
The National Indian Residential School Crisis Line is available 24 hours a day at 1-866-925-4419.