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.
Stz’uminus First Nation and Town of Ladysmith leaders gathered with the community at Transfer Beach on Thursday (Sept. 30) to recognize Canada’s first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. The amphitheatre was full of orange shirts as people came together to honour lost children and survivors of the residential school system.
“It can no longer be disputed that the residential school system was genocide and the question is now, what are we going to do about it,” said Stz’uminus Chief Roxanne Harris.
She offered suggestions on how individuals can be a part of the reconciliation process including buying and wearing an orange shirt, participating in events, reading Indigenous literature, watching films by and about Indigenous people and learning about the Indigenous communities in your area.
The event included an opening prayer from Stz’uminus elder George Harris, songs and dance and words from local leaders.
George shared the story of the anthem of the Stz’uminus people, a song he composed. He said he would sing it to himself often, but did not share it until he volunteered to sing at a 2010 olympic torch relay event. “We sing it in honour and respect of our people that are with us today and those that have left us, those that are in the spirit world,” he said.
George said the best outcome from National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is it can facilitate understanding and education between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.
“I really hope and pray that this is a new beginning for us as Indigenous people. I am a residential school survivor and I have to be honest with you — there are times when I get up in the morning and I am crying,” he said. “I always get asked to make comment about it and to me, it was cultural genocide. I have a scar on my hand for speaking my language.”
He thanked the people who gathered to show support and expressed gratitude that the flags at Transfer beach were flying half staff.
“I just want to say how moved I am to see so many people here,” said Ladysmith Mayor Aaron Stone. “To see all those orange shirts streaming through town really moved me.”