Content Warning: The content of this story revolves around the residential ‘school system’. Please read carefully.
Ahead of National Truth and Reconciliation Day (Orange Shirt Day), survivors came forward to share personal stories during an event about the homeland of the Syilx – sharing difficult truths to educate the community about residential “schools.”
The Ki Low Na Friendship Society (KFS) hosted the education gathering on Thursday, where about a dozen survivors took to an open microphone to share their experiences as children in the facilities and how what they went through continues to influence them.
People who experienced intergenerational trauma also spoke about how the “schools” affected their families and everyday lives. K̓ninm̓tm̓ taʔ n̓q̓ʷic̓tn̓s Wilfred “Grouse” Barnes of the Westbank First Nation began the event with an opening prayer.
After the opening prayer, people were invited to speak at the open microphone. While some non-Indigenous people present expressed their sympathy and sadness, the survivors, one by one, began to tell their stories.
About 80 people sat in chairs and listened as many of the survivors shared stories of the abuse they had endured and the lasting impact the “schools” had on their families and personal lives. Some talked about how they dealt with it, their healing journeys and their resilience. Red-ribboned KFS workers were on hand to provide emotional support to those who shared.
The event was all about honoring survivors and their families – and Edna Terbasket, KFS executive director, said the center also wants to educate non-Indigenous people. She said people need to know the truth about the impact of the residential “school system” and colonialism in general.
However, Terbasket noted that not many non-Indigenous people were present. She said she would like more people to be present in administrative positions, such as B. School administrators and individuals from organizations such as the Department of Child and Family Development, Internal Health and the RCMP.
“If you don’t know the truth, how can you make up with us? You also need to take some responsibility to learn the truth,” she said.
“Hearing it fresh from the heart, fresh from the survivor – it’s different than reading a book… When you hear someone tell their story it’s like, wow. It’s powerful.”
By allowing survivors to share their experiences, Terbasket creates a safe space for others to open up as well.
“It’s a healing for other people there who might be a little hesitant or shy to stand up and tell their story,” she said.
Soup and bannock were served throughout the event, and orange shirts designed by KFS’ in-house artists were sold. The KFS women’s hand drum group also played a number of songs throughout the afternoon.
Educational stands from community organizations such as the Kelowna Museums, the Rotary Club of Kelowna Sunrise, and the Okanagan Regional Library were on display. Books by indigenous authors dealing with issues such as racism, colonialism and indigenous teachings were on display.
A handful of dignitaries were in attendance, including “Kelowna” Mayor Colin Basran, who recognized that there is still a long way to go in acknowledging the damage done to the residential “school” system.
“A big part of that starts with education. My wish for everyone, especially tomorrow but every day, is to recognize first the children who never came home,” Basran said.
“And for those who have come home, the generational trauma that continues to this day. To understand what a generational trauma is, what consequences it has and what situations it still causes in our society today.”
Terbasket’s hope is that next year KFS can host the same event on National Truth and Reconciliation Day, rather than before, in a larger location to reach more people. She said many people are still in denial and could benefit from learning the truth.
“A part of them is still in that head where, ‘Oh, that didn’t happen, or ‘It can’t have been that bad.’ But it’s so bad,” she said.
“That denial puts them in a place where they have to take some responsibility. You have to be responsible. It happened and our people are the walking wounded.”