Editor’s note: The story below may trigger difficult or traumatic thoughts and memories. The Indian Residential School Survivors Society’s 24-hour crisis line is available at 1-866-925-4419.
During Skookum Surrey’s National Day for Truth and Reconciliation event at Holland Park today (Sept. 30), gatherers are encouraged to wear orange and bring a drum to play.
“An afternoon of stories, tea, bannock and drumming” is promised during the rain-or-shine event, planned from 2 to 4 p.m. near the park fountain, off Old Yale Road at King George Boulevard.
Formerly known as Skookum Lab, Skookum Surrey aims to carry on “the spirit of Skookum by centring Indigenous brilliance to create a flourishing and connected Urban Indigenous Community in Surrey,” says the group’s Facebook page.
Skookum means “strong, powerful and brave.”
Surrey is home to a growing Indigenous community that is now the largest in B.C., according to Surrey Urban Indigenous Leadership Committee.
Join us for National Truth and Reconciliation!
SEPTEMBER 30, 2021 pic.twitter.com/P1irV1JDOw
— Surrey Urban Indigenous Leadership Committee (@SRYIndigenous) September 17, 2021
Joanne Mills, executive director of Fraser Region Aboriginal Friendship Center Association, recently told the Surrey Police Board that roughly 13,500 Indigenous people call Surrey home.
“This is about 2.6 per cent of the total Surrey population,” Mills noted. “Surrey has the fastest growing Indigenous population in B.C. and will surpass Vancouver by 2021 if growth trends continue. The majority of people identify as First Nations people, 56 per cent, followed by Metis at 40 per cent and Inuit, four per cent.”
Today marks Canada’s first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, following proclamation by the Government of Canada back on July 7. It is also known as Orange Shirt Day, an Indigenous-led grassroots commemorative day that honours the children who survived Indian Residential Schools and remembers those who did not, notes a post on canada.ca.
“This day relates to the experience of Phyllis Webstad, a Northern Secwpemc (Shuswap) from the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation, on her first day of school, where she arrived dressed in a new orange shirt, which was taken from her. It is now a symbol of the stripping away of culture, freedom and self-esteem experienced by Indigenous children over generations.”
The Semiahmoo First Nation is also hosting an event today to “honour the lost children and survivors of residential schools, their families and communities.”
The Walk for Reconciliation, said Chief Harley Chappell, is “an opportunity to come together as a larger community to not only acknowledge and recognize and celebrate… the process of reconciliation,” but also to “participate in the acknowledging the hurt, the pain that I think we all feel.”
The event will begin at 1 p.m. with opening remarks at the Grand Chief Bernard Charles Memorial Plaza, in the 15400-block of Marine Drive, followed by a procession eastward along the promenade to Semiahmoo Park, where there will be speakers on the Spirit Stage, a moment of silence, participation in Drums Across Canada – a call for communities to simultaneously honour the missing children of residential schools at 2:15 p.m. – and an Honouring Ceremony.
Free event parking will be provided in the Semiahmoo First Nation parking lot at Semiahmoo Park for those wearing orange shirts. A limited number of orange shirts designed by artist Melaney Gleeson-Lyall will be available at the memorial plaza from noon to 1 p.m. , for a minimum $20 donation, with proceeds to benefit elders programming.
Meanwhile, the City of Surrey is observing National Day for Truth and Reconciliation as a statutory holiday, along with other government agencies, schools and some businesses.
Service counters at city hall are operating at regular hours, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., with reduced service and staffing levels, and select recreation facilities are open with reduced operating hours. Closed are Surrey Libraries, Surrey Art Gallery, Surrey Archives, Museum of Surrey and Historic Stewart Farm.