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Walking Our Spirits Home from Kamloops provides path to healing

First Nations in and beyond Secwépemc territory join in to honour residential school survivors

A journey described as one of both sorrow and healing began on June 11 at the Kamloops Indian Residential School, reaching its destination on June 13 at the home of the Adams Lake band near Chase.

Many different First Nations came from far and wide to participate in the Walking Our Spirits Home event, which honoured residential school survivors, those who never returned and all those affected by the institutions.

Held by the Adams Lake band following the confirmation of the remains of 215 children at the residential school, the walk’s last segment on June 13 included a stop at the Adams Lake graveyard to honour past residential school survivors.

“We started to put on our purple and blue colours – those are healing colours,” said speaker Paul Michel at the closing ceremony held outside the Adams Lake gym.

“We’re still within that pain (the orange), but now we’re slowly transforming to the purple and the blues.”

He spoke of the healing from welcoming the ancestors back home.

Michel also offered two suggestions to allies: One, that allies educate themselves about the truth and about reconciliation and, two, “allies must get to know us, listen to our traditions, our ceremonies and our stories.”

In one of many emotional moments during the closing ceremony, the names of 82 Adams Lake survivors of residential schools were called out and those in attendance were ‘blanketed’ or given gifts to honour them. Residential school survivors from other First Nations were also honoured with gifts.

Then a powerful honour song sung for the survivors seemed to lift the atmosphere in the large open-air covered area where participants were gathered.

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More than one person thanked the survivors because, without them, many of those present would not have been.

Kukpi7 (Chief) Cliff Arnouse welcomed and thanked the other First Nations, the singers, the spiritual leaders and the elders in attendance for their words and support.

He said the 215 unmarked graves mean the reality is undeniable now, “heartbreaking, shocking, genocide. We have a lot of work to do. We’re only just beginning. We’ve all got to be closer together now.”

On the walk, some people were crying, some laughing, some were just tired, he said, “and it’s time to do something.”

“I am so grateful to hear the songs. So grateful to hear the people laughing together. That’s what it’s all about. We’re all here to heal together. All the other stuff isn’t worth very much if we’re still sick.

“We need to heal. We need to get better. We need to get together and unite and be able to move forward in a good way.”

Speakers included Chase Mayor Rod Crowe who referred to Chase residents, saying there are “2,500 of us who live across the river who want to honour and respect all the survivors and all of those that never made it home.”

Adams Lake Councillor Brandy Chelsea, who envisioned the Walking Our Spirits Home event two years earlier, expressed her appreciation for the songs and thanked people for being part of the vision.
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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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