As Canada continues to process the discovery of the remains of 215 residential school students in Kamloops, members of the Splatsin band spent the weekend gathered at a sacred fire outside their community centre.
Band member Setatkwa Christian lit the fire on Saturday morning to act as both a memorial and a gathering place for residential school survivors.
“A lot of things were triggered for the survivors and I just felt it was really important that we, in our community, had somewhere for them to go to process and to heal and grieve,” said Christian.
Among those who spent the weekend at the fire was residential school survivor Donna Antoine.
Antoine attended two residential schools in the 1950s and 60s, including the Kamloops school.
She said the discussion around the fire brought up old emotions.
“It reminded me how painful it was to be taken away from the only environment that you know. It was so strange. We didn’t know how to talk their language,” recalled Antoine.
“Some person, must have been a priest, came in a big long dress and father said, ‘It’s time to go now. They’ve come to take you away and if you don’t go with them, the police will come and take you away and they will put me in jail.’ We didn’t want our father to be put in jail.”
Kamloops forensic challenges
The Splatsin band member recalled one of her fellow students dying while at school.
“They made it seem unimportant…because it didn’t seem important we never questioned what happened to that body,” Antoine said.
Antoine came to the fire to debrief.
“It’s a form of closure. It is a form of us dealing with the hurts that remain buried,” Antoine said.
However, for other former students, their residential school experience is too painful to talk about.
“Many survivors have not come here because it is too hard for them to remember and to tell their story, but the ones who came were very brave,” said survivor Gloria Morgan.
“As a federal adjudicator with the Indian Residential School Independent Assessment process, I went around the country for 11 years. I listened to hundreds of survivors tell me their stories…but the sad part is not one of them told me about missing children.
“It’s because it’s too hard to talk about. How can we talk about 215 missing children?”
Calls grow to find all children lost at residential schools
Around the fire, the Splatsin community came together to support survivors, and they hope the wider community is ready to listen, too.
“I hope, as an elected leader for our people, that our stories are actually going to be heard and taken to heart now they are not just going to be part of a report that people can easily brush aside,” band councillor Doug Thomas said.
While the scared fire wrapped up on Monday, community members stress survivors will need ongoing support.
“I’m so worried that is going to get lost when the headlines go,” Christian said.
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.