It was a sea of orange in Chilliwack on July 1 as folks came together to remember, honour, and mourn residential school victims and their families.
The Orange Shirt Gathering in Central Community Park drew more than 200 people to hear survivors’ voices, songs, dances and drumming over several hours.
“Unbelievable turnout today!” said organizer Brandi Mae Lane. “My hands go up to every single one of you who attended or helped me to make this gathering happen. Let the healing journey continue.”
She thanked everyone in a post for “standing with us and recognizing the atrocities that haunted us for over 150 years.”
Everyone had been invited to the gathering on Canada Day to speak, drum, sing, or just sit in silence reflecting on impacts the discovery of unmarked graves outside former residential schools is having on all of humanity.
“It was an emotional experience to see survivors speak, and to watch the children dance and play in the centre of the circle,” said Elia Julian, (Axwil Shla:li) a Skwah (Sqwá) First Nation councillor. “It helped people regain their strength as they went through a sea of emotion.”
One thought that resonated deeply for her was how crucial it is for everyone to learn the full history of Canada.
“It’s important to know the history so that it doesn’t happen again,” Julian said. “It was good to see so many people together gathered for such important work.”
Louis De Jaeger, Metis Nation of B.C. minister of economic development/natural resources, noted that governments will have to co-operate with church organizations to release residential school records.
“At any point in time the federal or provincial government could step in and demand that faith-based agencies turn over all records of those who attended residential schools,” said De Jaeger. “Every body count unleashes more torture on First Nation, Metis and Inuit families and communities. How many more holidays have to become Orange Shirt Day?”
For resident Margaret Reid, who attended with her whole family, it was an unforgettable show of unity in Chilliwack.
“I have never experienced a more meaningful ‘Canada’ Day in my life,” Reid said. “This was community in the most meaningful sense of the word, and something I will never, ever forget.”
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