Students packed the gymnasium at Chilliwack Middle School Monday (Sept. 26) to experience a bit of Indigenous culture and hear about truth and reconciliation.
They were treated to singing, drumming and dancing performed by members of the Pil’alt Canoe Family.
Russ Williams Jr. began the assembly with heartfelt thoughts about truth and reconciliation, then joined Tyrell Kenworthy and Eddy Williams providing drums and vocals while Alouisous Peter McCarthy and Raven Prest danced.
Prest spoke to the students about what his culture means to him. Afterwards, the students heard from Skowkale First Nation councillor Darcy Paul and Tzeachten First Nation Chief Derek Epp from Ch’iyaqtel. He told the children that he’s asked often what reconciliation means to him.
“We are still fighting against those atrocities, the impacts of a colonial system that has so much negative impact on so many of our families,” he said. “Even through my own family I acknowledge this. Our culture was ripped from us generations ago and my mom has done her best to ensure I have the most opportunities to learn who I am and where I come from.”
Epp told the students reconciliation comes through relationship building.
“Me being here today, a number of years ago this wouldn’t have been happening,” he said. “Being able to learn from the Pil’alt (Canoe) Family wouldn’t have happened five years ago. Two years ago even. So this is a huge step towards reconciliation. But I don’t want this to be a day, a week, an event, an excuse to wear an orange shirt. I think this should be intertwined throughout the year.”
Epp encouraged the students to ask questions, listen to the answers and show empathy.
“We have to learn the honest truth about the history of what happened in Canada, and to be honest it’s ugly. It’s hard. It’s tough to talk about,” Epp said. “I see the impacts on my family from residential schools today. There’s divide. There’s trauma. There’s addictions, domestic violence, divorces. There’s stuff that still impacts our families today as a direct result of the residential school process and the attempt to colonize.
“But we also see today it didn’t work. We’re here. We’re strong. We’re rebuilding our culture.”
Pedro Zullo, the Indigenous Enhancement Teacher at CMS, said he was stopped by students and teachers after the assembly, telling him how meaningful it was.
He said the idea to bring in Indigenous speakers came from Siyámíya Dianna Kay, who works at Seabird Island Community School.
“Many had never seen anything like that or had heard what Mr. Russ, Darcy Paul and Derek Epp shared with us,” Zullo said. “Other students recognized the songs. One of them was even singing along. I think the most important part was to bring in Indigenous drummers, dancers and speakers to speak genuinely and authentically about reconciliation.”