Members from several Vancouver Island First Nations and other attendees numbered in the hundreds for a gathering in Victoria marking a day of healing, and to honour the 215 children who never came home from a Kamloops residential school.
The timing of Tuesday’s memorial aligned with the end of 215 hours – one for each child buried in an unmarked grave at the school site – since flags at Victoria city hall and the legislature were lowered to half mast.
“This is our time to honour the 215 children and to stand with the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc people,” said Songhees Chief Ron Sam ahead of the event. “We support their call for governments to increase support for pathways for healing.”
Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations hosted a canoe protocol, where onlookers watched as four canoes, each representing a different Island Nation, rowed into Victoria’s harbour on their ancestral highways. Canoe by canoe, a lone paddler rose and asked permission to come ashore before local chiefs accepted them onto the land.
“It gives us the opportunity to be a part of our ancestors when we’re out there because we’re carrying their spirits when we’re coming in,” Cecelia Dick, Songhees member and canoe protocol organizer, told Black Press Media.
The paddlers, led by a drum procession, walked from the harbour docks to the lawn of the B.C. legislature.
Speakers opened the ceremony by giving thanks.
“I pray and ask that you take of each and every one of those little souls that journeyed home, finally after all this time,” one speaker said.
“Thank you for everything that we have today, thank you so much for all the healing songs that you can offer us, thank you to the creator for keeping us alive and keeping our teachings alive.”
Attendees, many in orange shirts to bring awareness to the intergenerational impacts of residential schools, formed a large heart on the legislature lawn before the different First Nations led drum circles in the heart’s centre.
Dick said the ceremony was a chance for younger generations to learn the meaning behind wearing orange shirts and offer “a healing path for the ones who have gone to residential schools.”
“What better way to do that (than to) come together as Nations from this Island to share our culture – singing, using our drums – to help heal our elders,” Dick said to the crowd.
Premier John Horgan, Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps and many other government officials were on hand to take in the canoe protocol, procession and drum circles Tuesday.
Dick said the memorial was important and their way of “showing our support and love to the Kamloops people.” “It was amazing to see everybody here.”