I was asked: “What does the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation mean to you?” As this statutory holiday was declared by the federal government, it gives Indigenous people hope. Hope for a better future and hope that Canadians are listening to the Truth and learning about the injustices done to our people for so many decades.
As education is a mandate of our band, we have had many opportunities to speak with the students of School District 40 in New Westminster, as well as Douglas College and the Justice Institute of B.C. I am proud to say that for the past 27 years, we have been members on Aboriginal Advisory Committees for School District 40, as well as Douglas College and the Justice Institute. Many students from the Northern and Interior First Nation reserves have a difficult time adjusting to busy urban cities in post-secondary schools. I applaud the development of the Aboriginal Gathering Places at Douglas College and the JIBC. These safe spaces have improved the learning, health and well-being of Indigenous students.
Personally, our family has been deeply affected by the discovery of the remains of the 215 children found on the grounds of the Kamloops Indian Residential School. My Mom, Marie, and other family members, were forced to attend there in the 1930s. We can only imagine what she must have endured or suffered through in the seven years she was there.
Johnny Bandura, my nephew, and a talented artist, was emotionally distressed over this discovery as Marie was his grandmother. As his way to honour each child, he painted 215 images of what each child may have become when he or she grew up – a nurse, healer, hunter, hockey player, dancer, all walks of life. It helped soothe him and was very therapeutic. As a result of only one art show, many residential school survivors have contacted him; told him their stories or praised him for his caring and work. It has caused a lot of interest and the exhibit was shown in Edmonton and will be traveling to Kamloops for a showing at the Thompson Rivers University. Recognition for works such as this represent a step toward reconciliation, and it is happening more often from many organizations.
On Sept. 30, we will have a moment of silence at 2:15 p.m. for the children who never made it home. I can’t express how much that gesture honours the children and their families.
The re-naming of schools, community centres all across the country are also positive steps and actions that help to heal Indigenous people. It was very rewarding to be involved with the committees re-naming the new elementary school and the aquatic and community centre here in New Westminster.
When SD 40 announced they were naming a new school in our honour at the site of St. Mary’s Hospital, it was a huge step on the road to reconciliation. St. Mary’s has deep personal meaning for our family, as Mom, as well as her siblings were born there. Ecole Qayqayt Elementary School is a wonderful legacy as learning, love and laughter will always grace that site. School District #40 has been on the path to reconciliation for many years, and we are eternally grateful.
Questions regarding the history of our people, the Indian Act, residential schools, the Sixties Scoop and even the status cards that we carry come from many sources in the community. It is uplifting that so many are wanting to learn about the Indigenous people who were living by the river long before the settlers came. As we will have an office in the Welcome Centre at the New Westminster Secondary School, I hope we are kept very busy getting to know everyone and making many new friends.
Sept. 30 is an important and special statutory holiday for all Canadians. The Truth is being told, and people across Canada are listening. Keep the conversation alive.
Huy chq’u (Thank you)
Rhonda Larrabee is chief of the Qayqayt First Nation