The Tsq’escen First Nation Wellness and Health departments hosted the Truth and Reconciliation Breakfast. The purpose behind the gathering was to give others the opportunity to learn more about the history of residential schools in Canada while engaging with survivors and their families. It was also to encourage people to reflect on how each of us can play a part in the journey of reconciliation. (Fiona Grisswell photo - 100 Mile Free Press)

The Tsq’escen First Nation Wellness and Health departments hosted the Truth and Reconciliation Breakfast. The purpose behind the gathering was to give others the opportunity to learn more about the history of residential schools in Canada while engaging with survivors and their families. It was also to encourage people to reflect on how each of us can play a part in the journey of reconciliation. (Fiona Grisswell photo - 100 Mile Free Press)

Tsq’escen First Nation offers their neighbours and allies opportunities to learn more

An opportunity to reflect on how each of us can play a part in the journey of reconciliation

The chief and council of Tsq’escen First Nation (Canim Lake Band) invited members of the surrounding communities to join them in observing Truth and Reconciliation Day.

Hosted by the Tsq’escen First Nation Wellness and Health departments, the purpose behind the Truth and Reconciliation Breakfast was to give others the opportunity to learn more about the history of residential schools in Canada while engaging with survivors and their families.

It was also to encourage people to reflect on how each of us can play a part in the journey of reconciliation.

One elder at the breakfast chose to share part of her story while choosing not to share her name.

She remembers one time when she was young hearing her dad talking with her mom. He’d heard the truck was coming to pick the children up and take them back to school. He did not want his children to be loaded up in the truck like animals and was going to see if he could find another way.

It was hard on them both, she said.

The children weren’t allowed to cry at school.

They were not allowed to speak the language. “That’s where the language got lost,” she said. “That’s what the kids don’t understand when we tell them we lost the language at residential school.”

In a story in the May 9 edition of Free Press, Kukpi7 (chief) Helen Henderson said, “Our people suffered great losses and we continue to pull together to support one another, as is our Secwépemc value.”

Events such as the breakfast provide a sense of support she said. Earlier that day she had talked of connection and how critical that is for the Secwépemc people and all Indigenous people, they are connected to their territory and they are connected to their people.

For the surviving Secwépemc, it gives them strength and comfort. Especially in times of extreme pain like the discovery of the 215.

Henderson remembers the day clearly.

The May 27 announcement by the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc that the remains of children – some as young as three years old – were found with the help of ground-penetrating radar has left Henderson and many others at the Canim Lake Band feeling heartbroken and angry.

The discovery of the remains of 215 children at the former Kamloops residential school “rocked the Secwépemc to its core,” she told Free Press in May.

Being able to pull the community together after hearing such terrible, shocking news, and having the ability to provide just a little comfort helped during that very heavy day.

They put up a tent outside and brought in drummers to play healing songs.

“Our hearts were hurting and not one Secwépemc person was exempt from the pain of hearing that news for the first time.”

She said they planned healing ceremonies for their members knowing their hearts were tired, weary and in need of support.

They took the survivors to the healing walk at St. Joseph’s Mission.

“There is importance in being able to spiritually and culturally bring our babies back and afford them the cultural ceremony that was stolen from them,” said the chief. “What hurt most was our babies were not afforded the cultural ceremony they needed to pass on and be accepted by our ancestors.”

Whenever they lose a member there is a cultural protocol to be followed that includes lighting a sacred fire and singing crossover songs to help their loved ones cross over to be with their ancestors.

The fire is to show the lost the way home and when it burns they are not allowed to make any other fire like hot dog roasts.

It is also much more than simply singing a song and being done.

At times, the person crossing over can become stuck. They know this because people called dreamers traditionally come forward to their medicine people and talk of their dreams of their loved ones and the feeling like they are in some kind of trouble, feeling sad.

The ceremony goes on and more crossover songs are sung until the dreamers come forward and say they have crossed over.

This is why it is so hard for Henderson and her people as they were not able to do this for their children when it happened.

But all these years later, with their culture and their spiritual beliefs, it is not too late, she said.

“And the children knew it and they were ready and we sang the songs and our hearts healed a little bit more,” she paused. “And we have to keep singing, we have to keep singing because they are still digging and they are still finding.”

She has been in contact with Rosanne Casimir, the Kúkpi7 of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc to plan the transition from Kamloops back to Canim Lake.

“Watching people step forward and truly want to understand what Truth and Reconciliation means and be a part of that and have some sort of contribution themselves to what reconciliation means could be different for different Indigenous communities depending on their experience.”

Some people are more open to reconciliation, some are not ready. Our job is to understand for ourselves what it means for Tsq’escen’ First Nation, she said.

Henderson said it has been quite a journey this last year navigating through the discovery and bringing healing to her people when all of their hearts are hurting while coming to terms with folks coming forward saying ‘I am trying to understand, can you help me?’ and setting her own boundaries.

She needs to come up with a plan on how to go about doing this in a good, healthy safe way so she is not giving up too much of her own self.

They are firm believers in relationships, living in their territories with their neighbours and allies and every time they plan anything moving forward, especially emergency events we ensure we include our neighbours as an example of our values, she said.

“We take care of one another and we take care of those around us.”



fiona.grisswell@100milefreepress.net

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter