BY DUCK PATERSON
Ladysmith’s amphitheatre was awash in the colour orange last week. The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation attracted more than 400 community members to an event put on by the Stz’uminus leadership team and Ladysmith council.
The federal government proclaimed the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation Day in 2021 as an opportunity for the citizens of Canada to try and reflect on the tragedies of the past and the history of the residential school treatment of Indigenous children. Canadians are urged not to forget the children who were taken and never came home, and also to honour and listen to the survivors.
Stz’uminus First Nation Chief Roxanne Harris opened the ceremony by thanking those who had come down to Transfer Beach Park to be a part of the day. Marlene Sawyer, Stz’uminus elder, offered a prayer and song to the crowd and in memory of the day.
“My thoughts of love and healing go out to all of our survivors,” said Harris. “We will never forget the children who never made it home as well … We stand together today to show that we want stand together.”
Harris also shared her thoughts of her father being a residential school survivor.
“He went to hell and back,” she said.
Harris’s father, George Harris, was taken to the residential school on Kuper Island, now known as Penelakut.
Ladysmith Mayor Aaron Stone also expressed thanks to the crowd gathered.
“Our community wants to thank our Stz’uminus neighbours for their patience and understanding and willingness to look with us into the future,” Stone said. “I also want to remind everyone that Sept. 30 is not a holiday. It’s a day to reflect on what has been done and how it can be put away but never forgotten.”
After the introduction, Stz’uminus chief and council presented the town with an ‘Every Child Matters’ flag.
The Young Wolves dancers and singers followed the opening remarks. The youth group, consisting of elementary- and secondary-school-aged children and teens, is learning the songs and dances of their nation’s culture.
The Tzinquaw Dancers, from Cowichan Tribes, also performed dances and songs for the audience.
The last performance was songs and remarks from Patrick Aleck who is from Stz’uminus First Nation. Aleck, who earned the City of Nanaimo’s Emerging Cultural Leader Award in 2020 for his ability to reach the community in a positive way through mentorship and by sharing his story and songs, spoke to the crowd about equality, justice and learning. During his songs he was assisted by students from Ladysmith Intermediate School who played drums. Aleck spoke about the school survivors and the children who didn’t survive. He talked about how some of the survivors still have problems with their past suffering.
“Many have come out but many more are still stuck in the cloud of mistreatment,” he said.
Harris closed the event by thanking the performers, speakers, dignitaries and especially the survivors who came out and listened and shared.
“Can we educate ourselves about the truth in our history? Can we all be a part of the solution? Can we be proactive?” she asked.