Mayor Cliff McNeil-Smith said the community cannot distance itself from the “tragic history and ongoing trauma caused by Canada’s residential school system” in a statement during Monday’s council meeting three days before Orange Shirt Day on Sept. 30.
The date – which also marks Canada’s first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation – came into existence in 2013, having emerged out of a residential school commemoration project and reunion based in British Columbia.
Following the discovery of more than 1,000 unmarked graves near formal residential schools across the country this year, the federal government raised the date to a statutory holiday, fast-tracking earlier efforts.
“We cannot distance ourselves from this tragedy,” said McNeil-Smith, while he and his council colleagues wore orange shirts. “It did not happen far way, or even that long ago.”
Vancouver Island was home to residential schools, with the last one operating into the 1980s. “In June, we learned the names of 202 children who died while attending residential schools on Vancouver Island; a list that does not yet capture all the children who died,” he said. “At Kuper Island, within the Southern Gulf Islands, there are records of children drowning while trying to escape from the school.”
WSANEC children were among those taken from their families, McNeil-Smith added. “We acknowledge the ongoing impacts and the intergenerational trauma that are felt by WSANEC people in their communities and in other Indigenous communities across the region, the province and the country.”
The government-to-government relationship with WSANEC Leadership Council and Pauquachin First Nation are in early days, adding that the OCP process has revealed a strong desire and willingness to work toward tangible signs of reconciliation.
Do you have a story tip? Email: email@example.com.