While nowhere near rivalling the crowds at the 5-Band Salute to the Sockeye at Tsútswecw Provincial Park, the people who gathered for the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in Salmon Arm demonstrated their heart and commitment.
About 150, many clad in orange shirts, stood at the corner outside the Salmon Arm Arts Centre Sept. 30 while curator Tracey Kutschker described the day. She said it commemorates the children who died in the church-run and government-run residential schools, along with the families and survivors who continue to endure the trauma to this day.
“It is also a day when we, as settlers, can reflect on and learn ways to participate in reparation and reconciliation.”
Louis Thomas, Knowledge Keeper and Neskonlith councillor, spoke both in Secwepemetscin and English, saying when his people came to the region long ago they were healthy, vibrant people with their own government, with everything they needed and where they all got along together.
“I don’t want to make you guys feel bad, all you early settlers,” he said with a laugh at the term, which he later explained he doesn’t like. “But you know, things have changed since then.”
He thinks, for truth and reconciliation to work, it has to go both ways. People have to learn from each other, get to know each other.
“I strongly believe that myself. I’ve been on the path of truth and reconciliation for the past 40 years. My involvement with the city, with you people, I can count a lot of you out here as maybe my friends. And there’s a few enemies out there I think. But you know, I think this is what it’s all about. Getting to know one another. Then I think we will have truth and reconciliation.”
Kutschker encouraged people to read and act on the 94 Calls to Action, which were the result of six years of heart-wrenching testimony from hundreds of residential school survivors through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission process.
“The instructions are there. You can do it through your business, you can do it through your non-profit society, you can do it through organizations you belong to and you can demand it of your leaders.”
She said the art centre has been decolonizing its hierarchical systems, breaking down barriers for people who are not accustomed to functioning within a highly administrative and paperwork-laden system.
On a personal level, Kutschker said she and her partner have even been decolonizing their marriage.
Erica Seymour and her son Logan Christian sang an honour song “for all the children we have lost and for the ones still here today. And all those grandchildren and great-grandchildren that we have now; it’s amazing to have these generations coming up and working together to help everyone bridge this community.”
Seymour explained she is one of the granddaughters of the late Mary Thomas, a revered elder. She said trying to build bridges is what her grandmother had envisioned and worked towards, so she is very glad to be doing the same.
She suggested people go to the Secwépemc Museum in Kamloops, where they can see some of the work her grandmother has done.
Kutschker opened the mic to anyone who wanted to speak about their experience of residential schools, adding it is critical to make space for Indigenous voices. Non-Indigenous people would have two minutes while Indigenous could have “all the time in the world,” she said, her voice breaking.
She was not alone in being overwhelmed by emotions. Several of the dozen or so people who spoke had to pause in order to get the words out.
Kim Sampson read a poem she’d written, “I Couldn’t See,” following the Remembering the Children ceremony in Kamloops.
Phil McIntyre Paul also spoke about following the 94 calls to action. He outlined his own heritage, as he said Louis Thomas encourages him to do. Then he spoke of the commitment needed to the Calls to Action, to all the people who live here, to growing new relationships. To be open to better understanding and better living to make it a place of reconciliation based in truth.
“I stand again awkwardly, uncomfortably, before you all and make that commitment again and again and again and again.”
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