The Semiahmoo First Nation is hosting an event Sept. 30 – Truth and Reconciliation Day – 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.”
“Not resolve, but finding a pathway forward.”
The event is to 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.
The Senate in June passed a bill creating a national day for truth and reconciliation to commemorate the tragic legacy of residential schools in Canada. The bill was fast-tracked with unanimous support through both houses of Parliament since the grisly discovery in May of the remains of 215 Indigenous children in unmarked graves at a former residential school in Kamloops.
Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault said the objective of the new statutory holiday was to create a chance for Canadians to learn about and reflect on a dark chapter in their country’s history and to commemorate the survivors, their families and their communities – as called for by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Indigenous leaders.
Chappell told Peace Arch News in June that he hoped that something good would come out of the graves’ discovery, “some understanding or some recognition… of the atrocities that our elders endured.”
Chappell’s grandfather attended the Kamloops school, as did “a few” SFN elders.
He reiterated Friday (Sept. 24) that the remains found in Kamloops “really shook this nation.”
“It doesn’t matter race, religion, creed – it had a devastating impact on people. I think people are still reeling, and trying to find out, what can we do?
“Really, there’s not a lot we can do. We can come together and honour them, celebrate them, celebrate their existence and their finding, so they can be returned home. That’s really a basis to some of the work we hope to accomplish on that day.
“A big piece of reconciling past hurts is acknowledging that there were horrific events that happened to build this country. But now, it’s how do we find the strength to move forward. My teachings have always been to gather the people.”
Chappell said everyone who wishes to participate in the Sept. 30 walk and celebration is encouraged to wear orange. Participating in the Drums Across Canada aspect is also open to anyone, he said.
Chappell said plans for the day were made with the possibility of a strong turnout in mind.
“I really believe there’s a hunger out there of support to Indigenous communities, in correlation with the finding of the young people in Kamloops,” he explained.
“I think there’s a lot of community out there, they’re looking to do something, and this, in my eyes, is an opportunity to share our customs, our beliefs… to do our best to uplift, definitely our survivors in our community, as well as our elders, our community, as well as the general public who really were impacted.”
Free event parking will be provided in the Semiahmoo First Nation parking lot at Semiahmoo Park for those who turn out wearing orange shirts. A limited number of orange shirts designed by artist Melaney Gleeson-Lyall of the Musqueum, Snaw’naw’as and Lyackson Nations will be available at the memorial plaza from noon to 1 p.m. on event day, for a minimum $20 donation, with proceeds to benefit elders programming.
Those planning to attend are asked to wear masks, social distance and follow COVID-19 safety protocols.
– with files from Canadian Press