Elder James Quatell said it best at the second annual National Day for Truth and Reconciliation event in Campbell River on Sept. 30.
“It’s you! It’s you that makes this day. This is what reconciliation is! It’s you who makes this day. I stand as one of the survivors from St. Michael’s residential school. I’m telling you: I am still here! That school did not kill this Indian!” he said to cheers from the crowd of hundreds.
National Day for Truth and Reconciliation was established to honour and commemorate those who died in residential school, as well as the survivors and the families that were affected by the system. It’s a day of reflection, of honour and of working together to ensure that the pains of the past, the legacy of colonialism are not forgotten and never repeated.
The event began with a walk around downtown Campbell River, followed by traditional drumming and singing, prayers and some words from Elders and local elected officials.
Wedlidi Speck was the emcee of the event. As he spoke, he noted how special it was that an event like this could even take place.
“Never when I was growing up did I dream that we’d be walking out there with the kind of numbers that we had today,” he said. “That we would not be afraid to wear a shirt that identified us as Indigenous people and demonstrated what’s important to us. Never would I have that 20 years ago.”
He also remarked on how the day was about growth, about coming together and learning from each other, and that reconciliation was a journey that all Canadians are taking together.
“For our relatives and friends who come from different countries, and one of those countries is called Canada. It’s important for us to know that this is a journey that we’re all taking together,” he said. “This is a journey where we’re pausing for one day, where we can begin to set a tempo for the rest of the 364 days that will help us define the space we’re sharing in this community… when we talk about sharing space, how are we showing up? What is this community doing for us to acknowledge where we come from and who we are? Where are our traditional names? Where are the markers that we have to let people know where we came from?”
Though a lot has changed since the time Speck recalled when even wearing a t-shirt proclaiming Indigenous pride was dangerous, speaker Shawn Decaire said that the colonial mindset is still present, and that changing that is an intentional process that one must constantly be undertaking.
“I can’t emphasize how warm my heart is today to see the sea of orange. As we know this one day is not enough to say the impacts of colonialism and residential school,” he said. “I’ve thought a lot about this, because my work in this community is emphasized around the homeless, addiction, alcoholism, violence and mental abuse.
“I worry in our great town because I’ve heard some comments about… sending our homeless people away on a bus, which is like sending them back to residential school,” he said. “I’m asking you to change your historic thought process and work with us to change the way history has been. For hundreds of years, Indigenous people have been impacted on our land. If you have to feel a little bit of discomfort and pain, just because it doesn’t look as pretty to you… it’s not about you.”
MP Rachel Blaney acknowledged the pain that many in the crowd were feeling, saying that “When we found the first children, the 215 in Kamloops… it was like having those children found opened up that wound all over again. Today is a beautiful day, and it is a very very painful and sad day. I just want to honour whatever experience you’re having.”
She continued, adding that it was not the responsibility of Indigenous people to carry the burden of what happened in Canada from the 1870s until 1996 when the last residential school closed.
“I want to say to the non-Indigenous people like me, that our job is to start to learn and carry this history. It is Canada’s history. It is not Indigenous history,” she said. “We shouldn’t just feel sorry for those children, we should look upon them with a great amount of respect and awe because they are still here.”