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.
A persistent, cleansing September rain didn’t stop 300-plus people from local First Nations and nearby municipalities from walking to honour the inaugural National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
Hosted by the Sts’ailes First Nation, the walk was meant to bring awareness of and healing to those who were traumatized or have survived the residential school system and in memory of those who did not.
For nearly four kilometres down Morris Valley Road on Sts’ailes land, hundreds marched, led by hand drums and songs of healing. Nearly all wore orange in honour of Orange Shirt Day and the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Some brought signs proclaiming “Every Child Matters” while others dressed in traditional Sts’ailes regalia.
At the walk’s final destination at Sandpiper Golf Course, Sts’ailes Chief Ralph Leon was among several speakers.
”Today is a hard day for our people, but as well, slhém:exw, it’s raining,” Leon continued. “It’s washed away some of those things that need to be washed away from our people.”
Leon was sent to St. Mary’s Residential School in Mission.
“The things that were witnessed, and if those walls could speak for us at St. Mary’s, it would be everything that we need to know,” he said.
Leon said he was happy to see members of the Sq’ewelets First Nation joined the Thursday morning walk.
“We need to do this, and it’s going to get bigger every year,” Leon said. “I have that good feeling, we’re going to walk together like we’re supposed to. We are all brothers and sisters, regardless of how you look at it. We come from only one mother – Mother Earth.”
Leon pointed out that there is no word for different colours of skin in the Halq’eme’ylem language.
“With those other words in those other languages comes judgement, racism,” he continued. “We don’t have that in our language. That’s why we acknowledge brothers and sisters, because that’s what we are and forever will be.”