Members of the Tsq’escenemc (Canim Lake Band) made a trek by foot, horseback and vehicles last week to the St. Joseph’s Indian Residential School in Williams Lake to symbolically bring their lost children home.
The Gathering Our Spirits Ceremony was aimed at honouring the community’s Residential School survivors and families of the lost children and helping the community heal from the residential school trauma. Those on horseback represented how the former residential school students would have arrived at the school, established in 1867 by the Roman Catholic church, more than a century ago.
“We wanted to bring their spirits back home. It was very symbolic because of the way they travelled to the mission site, on horseback or using a team and wagon,” said Joseph Archie, of the Canim band’s Wellness Team, which led the project. “I walked with them. For some, it was a pretty powerful feeling, they couldn’t hold back their tears.”
Archie said about 50 community members attended the ceremony, where Kukpi7 Willie Sellars of T’exelc (Williams Lake First Nation) and former Kukpi7 Charlene Belleau welcomed the group and acknowledged the importance of ceremony in the healing process. Canim Lake Kukpi7 Helen Henderson and councillors Maryanne Archie, Carl Archie and Stanley Daniels addressed attendees who were mainly members and staff of Tsq’escen and T’exelc.
Spiritual leaders blessed six handmade cradles brought by community members and a long canoe that would carry the spirits home. At the end of the prayers and blessings, an eagle flew overhead.
“It’s part of a healing process for our community. We let the spirits know they’re welcome to come back with us in the canoe or the cradles or the horses,” Archie said, adding his father, a residential school survivor, was at the ceremony. “I gave him a hug and ended up crying on his shoulder.”
A similar ceremony was later held at the Tsq’escen community where the drum group at the Eliza Archie Memorial School opened with the Travelling Song and a few survivors spoke of their experiences at residential school. The cradles were smudged again before the group sang some crossover songs to send the spirits on their journey.
While they were singing, a huge gust of wind passed through, “so that was pretty powerful,” Archie said. “It felt like it came out of nowhere when we were singing.”
A sacred fire burned in the community, as well as at St. Joseph’s Mission, for four days allowing the spirits to cross over.
Archie thanked non-Indigenous allies for supporting the band, as well as Kyla Miller of Halfway Creek Ranch for providing horses for the ceremony.
“It felt like a weight off after everything was done,” Archie said. “There were lots of smiles all over the place. It felt good to be part of the healing.”
The Canim Band is planning another trip this month to the Kamloops Indian Residential School, where 215 children’s bodies were discovered earlier this year.