There are currently 77 residential school survivors in the small First Nations community of Esk’etemc south of Williams Lake, Chief Fred Robbins said.
When the Williams Lake First Nation (WLFN) released preliminary results of the inquiry into the former St. Joseph’s Mission Indian Residential School, 48 of Esk’etemc’s survivors attended a rally to watch the live stream in the community gymnasium.
“It was a very emotional day surrounded by ceremony and truth telling,” Robbins said, noting that there are just over 500 people in the community. “I think that really helped and the healing journey started.”
During the press conference, WLFN leader Willie Sellars noted that the investigation revealed 93 potential graves that required further analysis.
On Friday, January 28, Robbins, Hereditary Chief Francis Johnson Jr. and residential school survivors Marilyn Belleau, Julianna Johnson, Irene Johnson, Freddie Johnson Sr. and Rick Lulua virtually met with Marc Millar, Minister of Crown and Indigenous Relations and North. Business Canada.
During the meeting, Millar and Johnson jointly announced that the federal government was releasing $387,000 to support the community in its reconciliation and healing efforts for residential school survivors.
Millar said in a funding press release that the government’s thoughts are with Esk’etemc, the survivors and their families as they begin to heal from the horrors experienced by many children who have been removed from their communities and their cultures to attend St. Joseph’s Mission Residential. School.
“We remain committed to supporting the Esk’etemc First Nation on your spiritual journey to uncover the truth, to bring your children’s spirits home and your healing,” Millar noted.
Last year, Esk’etemc organized a Bringing Our Spirits Home walk from the St. Joseph Mission site to Esket, taking the route that some children took when they ran away from the mission.
It is hoped that the march will become an annual event and some government funds will be dedicated to it, along with land-based activities to reclaim the culture.
Plans are also underway to erect a monument to honor Duncan Sticks, an eight-year-old child who ran away from the mission and died when he froze to death in 1902.
The monument will be erected where Sticks’ body was found near Felker Lake Road and possibly something else to honor him in Esket Cemetery, said Calvin Dubray, a former principal of School District 27. who now works for Esk’etemc as an education coordinator.
It’s important to preserve the knowledge and history of residential school survivors, Robbins said, noting that the overall impact of St. Joseph’s has been felt by 15 First Nations bands.
“I think Mr. Millar needs to understand that when it comes to residential schools, it doesn’t just affect one community. This has an impact on generations.
Robbins predicts that there will be more possible burials once a larger area around the mission site has been surveyed.
“There may be one or two graves in the middle of nowhere and the next step will be to identify which children are from which community. For us, 15 communities will have to do DNA tests. »
Calling on churches and the federal government to release any available information, Robbins said information specifically was missing from the years 1940 to 1972.
Dubray described how Esk’etemc worked with local teachers within SD 27 to deliver workshops.
“Chief Fred and I went to Ryan Hanley who is the Pro-d representative of the Cariboo Chilcotin Teachers Association and Columneetza teacher Nara Riplinger to develop a partnership to build cross-cultural awareness,” he said. . “We’ve already had two groups of teachers come to Esk’et for a two-day workshop with around 12-15 in each group.”
Teachers learned from residential school survivor Dave Belleau, who was trained by world-renowned trauma specialist Patricia Vickers, and shared the impact of residential schools on his generation and the next generation.
Freddie Johnson Sr. and Robbins shared their knowledge of traditional sweat ceremonies, their uses, protocols, and then performed a sweat with all the teachers.
“Freddie sang and talked and everyone offered prayers,” Dubray said.
On the second day, the teachers learned the “true history” of Esket and the Alkali Valley from the chief, information you won’t learn from a textbook, Dubray added.
The hope is that teachers will share the information in their classrooms or even lead students to learn more about the culture and impact of residential schools themselves.
Johnson recalled working with former SD27 superintendent Mark Thiessen and the conversations he had at the time about reconciliation with First Nations people and the importance of education.
“These boarding schools were meant to educate First Nations people,” Robbins said. “I really think we need to start with the schools to start a new chapter of what it means to be First Nations to end discrimination and racism. We need to educate young people about the impacts of schools in order to change society at large in the future.
Indigenous reconciliationFirst NationsResidential schools