There is content in this article about residential schools that may be triggering to some readers.
With shovels in hand, the students of Len Wood Middle School went to work Tuesday, Oct. 5, planting 215 trees adorned with orange ribbons — one for each child found buried at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.
Among the Grade 6 students was Splatsin Kukpi7 (Chief) Wayne Christian, digging into the hard clay and soil to plant a tree in one of the back rows in honour of the children that never made it home.
Tuesday’s learning opportunity at the Pleasant Valley Wetland Heritage Park comes on the heels of Canada’s first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation (Sept. 30).
Property owner Barb Craven opened the ceremony by welcoming Christian and gifting him tobacco which he offered in the “four directions” as he gave thanks to the land.
Christian then thanked the students for their act of recognition.
“What you did was create your own living memory of what happened this summer with the 215 children that were uncovered at the institution they called a residential school but was really an internment camp where lots of things happened to our people,” he said.
“You should know that our survivors of the residential school when they went there, were like you — they were little. Younger. — Maybe Kindergarten, Grade 1, when they went into these institutions,” he said. “They were stripped away.
“You can imagine somebody coming and takes you at the beginning of September, puts you in a truck and ships you off someplace you don’t know where you’re going,” he said. “That’s what happened to our people.”
Splatsin Tkwamipla7 (Coun.) Edna Felix and her daughter Laureen, who walked five days from the site of the former Kamloops residential school to Enderby, sang a welcome song and gave thanks to the students for their efforts to honour the 215 children.
“It’s always a great honour when I see a school or community stand up for people,” Felix said. “Today what you’re doing is standing up for the spirits of the children who have been lost. You’re putting your little hands and work into it.”
North Okanagan-Shuswap MP Mel Arnold couldn’t attend in person, but he did have his representative Theresa Durning say a few words in his stead.
Spallumcheen Mayor Christine Fraser closed out the speeches, reminding students residential schools, while a terrible part of Canada’s history, are important to know about and understand.
“It’s our responsibility to repair the damage that has been caused by a lot of our ancestors in our country and make sure that moving forward, our generation, your generation, your kids, their kids know that this history of what happened in our country was wrong, that it was a horrible, terrible thing and there is something we can do to make a difference,” she said.
“That difference starts with education.”