Lingering morning fog uptown did not diminish a bright sea of orange shirts as some 250 people gathered at the Cenotaph beside White Rock City Hall to mark the raising of a Semiahmoo First Nation flag Friday morning (Sept. 30).
Semiahmoo First Nation Chief Harley Chappell and White Rock Mayor Darryl Walker hauled on ropes as the flag ascended the pole to flutter in the breeze – first of a series of events planned to mark the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in White Rock and on SFN lands at the waterfront.
The flag will fly permanently next to the Canadian red maple leaf, the B.C. provincial colours and the White Rock city flag at City Hall.
The event, attended by Surrey White Rock MLA Trevor Halford and all members of White Rock council and school trustee Laurae McNally, followed a procession of Semiahma youth and elders to the cenotaph, and a blessing of the flag by Chappell.
“To be acknowledged in your own home is the best feeling,” Chappell told the crowd, expressing his gratitude to the City of White Rock for what he described as “a symbol of our future.”
“It’s an acknowledgement and a display of love, and I’m grateful for this,” he said, reflecting that his hope is that the child members of SFN will grow up to see the guiding principles of truth and reconciliation in action in increasingly meaningful ways.
Walker said it was a “great day” for both communities.
“There is no closer relationship, in my opinion, than the relationship between the City of White Rock and the Semiahmoo First Nation,” he said.
Later in the day some 600 White Rock residents, also resplendent in orange shirts, gathered at the parking lot at Grand Chief Bernard Robert Charles Plaza on East Beach for the second annual walk to mark the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
And most of those made the trek along the promenade and from there up Marine Drive to Semiahmoo Park, where Chappell again addressed the crowd from the Spirit Stage.
There he called on participants to observe a moment of silence for those in the First Nations population who had perished and those who had survived the residential school system, in force in Canada from the late 1870s until 1996.
In the system, indigenous youth aged between seven and 15 were removed from their parents and forced to abandon their culture as a means of “civilizing” the native population.
Chappell said the moment of silence was an opportunity to reflect “on the ones who never came home; the parents who sent their kids off for a ‘better life’ and they never came home, or came home changed.”
“Schools are supposed to have playgrounds, not cemeteries,” he added.
“This is not just our history as Indigenous people, this is the history of Canada. We can’t change some of it, but we can acknowledge it, and learn to let it go, and heal.”
Richard Pierre, of the Katzie First Nation – who has strong family ties to SFN – also spoke of the importance of people coming together, both native and non-native alike, to learn and heal, as symbolized by the celebration at Semiahmoo Park, which also included traditional dances performed by SFN children and youths.
That would have once have been illegal, he noted.
“Why did it take the country 250 years to come to terms with with the fact that we had a life, and that we should be able to share our way and traditions?”
Pierre also noted his obligation to pass on this history, which he inherited from his late mother, who was very active in preserving Katzie culture.
“If my mother was here right now, she’d say a huge, huge thank you to each and every person here today,” he said.