The wording on the back of some participant T-shirts brought the purpose of the Penelakut Tribe’s March For The Children to the forefront: “To honour the children who survived Indian Residential School and remember those who never made it home.”
A few hundred people gathered for the second annual march in Chemainus Monday, with a particular focus close to home pertaining to the Kuper Island Residential School that previously existed on the island now known as Penelakut across the water from Chemainus.
The Kuper Island Industrial School operated from 1889 until 1975. It was run by the Catholic Church until 1969 when the federal government took it over. Last year, the Penelakut Tribe disclosed to neighbouring First Nations that more than 160 unmarked graves were found on the grounds of the former residential school.
Marchers of all ages – clad primarily in orange T-shirts – gathered at the Salish Sea Market near the Chemainus-Penelakut-Thetis ferry terminal for a route that went up Oak Street, along Willow Street through downtown and onto portions of Victoria Road, Croft Street and Mill Street before ending up at the Waterwheel Park Bandshell for a ceremony that included speeches, a time for reflection and performances by the Penelakut Dance Group.
It wasn’t quite as a hot for the morning proceedings as it had been in previous days, much to the relief of those in attendance. Water was still made available to members of the crowd who wanted it and orange roses given out to march participants provided a nice touch.
Jill Harris made the opening remarks and a blessing, saying it was a sacred event where “we’re having to remember the children who attended the Kuper Island Industrial Residential School.
“In this coming year we will do something to change what has happened,” she added.
Ken Thomas said he was grateful for the turnout to “bring attention to the elders we lost in the residential schools, the children that never had any names and never made it home.
“We’re here to bring attention to this serious issue.”
“What’s happened to us was uncalled for,” said Ray Harris.
Youth and experience joined together on the bandshell stage to perform a series of dances and significant songs.