Last Friday I attended the roots of reconciliation project celebration at Lakes District Secondary School (LDSS).
Sometimes I wish I had been a LDSS student because that school continues to impress me.
All I was expecting last Friday was the unveiling of a statue that represents their roots of reconciliation project. I certainly was not expecting to witness such a powerful, moving, well-planned and meaningful ceremony.
I was genuinely moved (as most people in there were), and it certainly made me proud to be living in the Lakes District and to see that our school has been engaged in such a powerful project.
For those of you that don’t know, the roots of reconciliation project started soon after a report from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada was released last year.
The report culminated a six-year examination of residential schools where more than 6750 survivors and witnesses from across the country were heard. Among the calls for action in the report, the commissioners highlighted the role of education in reconciliation and called for the development of age-appropriate curriculum on residential schools.
Why is this project so important? Because for several decades, Canadians were not told the truth; they were not aware of the horrors that took place in residential schools.
Many First Nations students were forcefully separated from their families; they were physically and emotionally abused; they could not speak their own language and many died as a result of the poor conditions of some of the schools.
Although the last residential school was closed about 20 years ago, the consequences are still seen to this day as the trauma from the despicable abuse was often passed from generation to generation. The lack of understanding and knowledge of what had happened led to different forms of racism and intolerance.
Understanding exactly what happened in residential schools helps all of us to be more empathetic, to have a deeper understanding of the challenges that First Nations face today, and it helps us find more meaningful ways to address those challenges.
Despite the negativity of residential schools, the ceremony last Friday was all about a chance to connect with each other and heal. Students wearing roots of reconciliation T-shirts greeted guests with their upbeat energy as people arrived at the ceremony. The stage of the multipurpose room had a First Nations theme and was beautifully decorated.
People felt welcomed and embraced as students offered water to First Nations elders, and later brought them gifts. Artistic performances helped people absorb the powerful message of the ceremony. It was hard not to feel moved once you realized how much love and effort was put into this project.
During the ceremony, some students shared how residential schools have impacted their families. A representative from each of the six First Nations groups in the area also shared their own stories. Lake Babine Nation Chief Wilf Adam said he was almost sent to a residential school, but thanks to a family member who stood by him and helped him run away, he avoided this possibly traumatic experience. Many of his friends weren’t as lucky.
Residential schools have impacted many people in our area in some form or another. The eagle statue unveiled last Friday represents the ability to fly above the intolerance and ignorance of residential schools. By acknowledging this dark chapter of the Canadian history, and by telling the truth, we can help people heal.
We all felt their pain last Friday. And we stood together.