From traditional cedar dugout canoes that First Nations tribes and non-aboriginal people will paddle to False Creek, to a “Survivors’ Walk” at the Pacific National Exhibition (PNE) and a tribute from the Vancouver Giants’ to First Nations hockey, Canada’s Indian residential schools legacy will be front and centre in Vancouver this Sept. 16 to 22.
Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) will host the B.C. National Event, from Sept. 18 to 21, at the PNE. Gatherings organized by Reconciliation Canada, a charitable project established by the Indian Residential School Survivors’ Society and Tides Canada Initiatives Society, will complement the event.
Reconciliation Canada will kick off “Reconciliation Week” with the lighting of the “Fire of Reconciliation” at Ambleside Beach.
On Sept. 16, An All Nations Canoe Gathering from Vanier Park to Science World will take place. More than 40 vessels will participate, including a dragon boat paddled by Anglicans. Paddlers-some of whom attended residential schools-will be welcomed in a traditional ceremony to the Coast Salish lands, which include Vancouver and Victoria, B.C.
On Sept. 20, the Vancouver Giants will pay tribute to First Nations hockey when they kick off their 13th season with a home opener against the Victoria Royals at the Pacific Coliseum.
There is a link between Canada’s beloved sport and residential schools. “Aboriginal people have been playing hockey for almost as long as there has been ice to play it on,” according to the Library and Archives Canada website. “The first hockey sticks were made in New Brunswick by the Mi’kmaq, over 100 years ago. Organized hockey began in First Nations communities when children were sent to residential schools. Away from home for almost the entire year, children played hockey during the winter months. Before long, there were competitions between the various schools.”
On Sept. 22, a “Walk for Reconciliation” from Queen Elizabeth Plaza to Creekside Park, involving Canada’s many cultures, will cap Reconciliation Canada events. In a statement, Reconciliation Canada said that it “recognizes and honours the cultural and spiritual aspects of the dugout canoes and the healing they bring to the people…The cultural significance of the canoe movement is the resurgence of songs, dances, names, language and teachings.”
The B.C. event, the sixth of seven national events mandated by the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, provides former students, their families and all affected by the schools to share their experiences with the TRC and the public. “They also offer Canadians a chance to bear witness to the legacy of the schools and to celebrate aboriginal culture,” said the TRC in a press statement.
“Truth-telling is a critical step along the path to healing and recovery for those impacted by the residential schools and their legacy, and bearing witness to the truths of others is equally important in moving towards reconciliation,” said a joint statement issued by the BC Assembly of First Nations, the First Nations Summit, and the Union of BC Chiefs. “Reconciliation is only possible if it is firmly rooted in a shared understanding of each other’s truths.”
The residential schools, without question, “did enormous and lasting damage, but it has also confirmed our resilience,” they added. “Our commitment to reclaiming our heritage and culture is stronger than ever, as is our commitment to reconciliation among Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples.”
Anglican bishops, clergy and lay people from the dioceses of New Westminster, British Columbia, Kootenay, Yukon, Caledonia and the Anglican Parishes of the Central Interior, and national church leaders and staff from Toronto, will participate in the events. Archbishop John Privett, metropolitan of the ecclesiastical province of British Columbia, is expected to offer an expression of reconciliation on Sept. 21.
As in previous TRC national events, there will be a Churches’ Listening Area, where former students and the public can interact with representatives from the various churches that ran the schools-Anglican, United, Presbyterian and Roman Catholic. The Anglican Church of Canada operated over 30 residential schools in Canada, including three in B.C.: St. George’s, Lytton; St. Michael’s, Alert Bay; and All Hallows, Metlakatla.
The church’s General Synod archives will once again have a booth to share with former students and the general public its collection of Indian residential school records and photographs.
For more information about the B.C. National Event program, visit the TRC website.