It was an emotional day.
Even Lheidli T’enneh elder Darlene McIntosh got choked up when she offered her traditional welcome to more than 100 people gathered in front of City Hall Tuesday to witness the lowering of the band’s flag to half-mast in recognition of the 215 bodies recently discovered at the Kamloops Residential School. Speaker after speaker fought back emotions as they spoke.
Lheidli T’enneh Chief Dolleen Logan said that a lot of Lheidli T’enneh members, including her mother and her aunts, attended Lejac Residential School near Fraser Lake.
“They are the true survivors, they are the ones who made it home, when so many didn’t,” she said, her voice cracking with emotion. “That word ‘survivor’ should never be attached to a child attending school. I encourage everyone to continue talking about residential schools because it happened. What happened there, happened to little children.”
The Lheidli T’enneh will be lowering their flag for 215 days, one day for each of the 215 bodies identified in the mass grave in Kamloops.
Logan called on Ottawa and the churches to use the technology used to discover the graves in Kamloops to search the grounds of every residential school in Canada. This morning Ottawa announced it will be delivering information to Indigenous Communities today on they can access $27 million the government had set aside in 2019 to help them find missing loved ones at residential schools.
Lheidli T’enneh Councillor Crystal Gibbs, the granddaughter of residential school survivors, said her family, like many others, had members “who were taken and never returned. Their memory, their strength and their resilience is why we’re still here.”
Coun. Helen Buzas added she hoped that people will learn from the history.
Coun. Marcel Gagnon said he was saved from attending residential school by his older brother who threatened to burn Lejac down.
“It’s not going to get easier, but at least the truth will come out and the whole world will know what people went through,” he said.
Coun. Joshua Seymour pointed out that the last residential school closed in 1996.
“It is not in the past, it is right now,” he said, echoing the call for Ottawa and the churches put resources into examining all the residential school sites in the country. “Those babies won’t rest, and neither will we.”
He said the children need to be put to repatriated to their communities.
“That is our duty as human beings,” he said. “We have to do it for the children, we have to do it for the survivors who are here today and those who are not. We will never forget them, we will find you.”
Coun. Joe Gosnell called the discovery in Kamloops a crime scene and added each residential school in Canada should be considered a crime scene.
The band council, along with Mayor Lyn Hall and Regional District of Fraser-Fort George chair Art Kaehn gathered to physically lower the Lheidli T’enneh flag.
“It was shocking news that we all received,” said Mayor Lyn Hall. “… The trauma of the residential schools has been noted through history and without question the latest finding will ensure that the discussion will continue. But action is required. Residential school survivors have been talking about this for decades.”
The image of the children’s shoes placed on the steps of City Hall is not lost on anyone, Hall said.