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Three-day healing ceremony to be held at site of former Lejac Residential School

Cheslatta Carrier Nation Chief Corrina Leween

Carrier Sekani Family Services (CSFS) is supporting Nadleh Whut’en and Stellat’en to host a healing ceremony at the site of the former Lejac Indian Residential School.

Plans include a three-day sacred fire ceremony at Lejac to release the souls of the 215 children found buried outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School to the Creator. This ceremony is intended to allow people, Indigenous and all cultures, the opportunity to grieve and let go of the pain they may be experiencing as a result of the recent finding of 215 unmarked graves of Indigenous children at the Kamloops Residential School site.

  • Where: Former Lejac Indian Residential School on the shore of Fraser Lake off Highway 16 West (across from Lejac gas station)
  • When: June 18, 19, 20, 2021 (10am to 6pm)

Opening ceremony at 10 a.m., June 19; closing ceremony at 2, June 20.

All are welcome who wish to pay respects, grieve and seek solace, healing and reconciliation. Non-Indigenous people are welcome.

The ceremony will include the presence of Fire Keepers for the duration of three days, as well as opportunities to seek support from traditional healers, mental health clinicians and support workers. Cultural ceremonies and healing activities will occur through out the three-day event, including drumming and singing, as well as smudging.

COVID-19 precautions will be in place, and marshals will be present to ensure social distancing and that maximum numbers outlined by provincial health regulations are not exceeded at any one time.

Working through the impacts of colonialism and the residential schools systems is not new for Carrier Sekani Family Services. In fact, this organization was created with the vision of balancing the effects of cultural devastation and colonialism experienced by Indigenous families and children with culturally sensitive services that are consistent with traditional laws, according to a news release. The organization was created to reassert First Nations control of justice, health, social and family services.

“The legacy of the residential schools continues to have negative impacts on the health and well being of many Indigenous people,” said Chief Corrina Leween of the Cheslatta Carrier Nation and President of Carrier Sekani Family Services, in a news release. “Coupled with colonial government policies, these injustices continue to exacerbate poverty in First Nations communities; many of which are akin to third world conditions. It is time that governments and religious institutions implement the recommendations made by the Truth and Reconciliation commission and stop paying lip service. Governments tend to announce new polices and funding but lacks timely execution.”

She has been working with government to build a healing and treatment centre but the government seems to be lagging, she says. She calls on the governments and religious orders to give these children the proper burial they deserve.

“Many of our children were taken out of their communities and placed in a dormitory environment which had devastating effects on children and also communities alike,” said Warner Adam, CEO of Carrier Sekani Family Services. “In some communities there were no children left, all the children were taken away from their homes, so of course, once that happened despair set in. We need a lot of work in terms of rebuilding the family unit. First of all, our spirituality was down-graded or obliterated, our potlatch (governance) institution was banned, our people were dislocated from their traditional territory and kids were taken away from the communities, alcohol was introduced in the ’50s, and since then because of the trauma of all those factors, much work needs to be done, much rebuilding.”

“We hold up the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc during this sorrowful time,” said Mary Teegee, CSFS Executive Director of Child & Family Services. “Our healing journey is made lighter by being united in heart and spirit; our show of support through the sacred fire remind us that we are all bound together. Our role now is to be the voice of those long silenced, to fight the good fight and to honour those we have lost by taking care of those who are still here.” 

Marlaena Mann, Executive Director of Communications and Data Governance and Co-creator of the Nowh Guna cultural training which teaches non-Indigenous people tools needed for reconciliation added: “This ceremony presents an opportunity for non-Indigenous people to show up as allies to Indigenous people. Showing up as an ally means recognizing your privilege and making a commitment to breaking down barriers that continue to cause harm for indigenous people. It means learning about Canada’s long history of colonization and empathetically listening with your heart when Indigenous people choose to share their experiences.”

The Lejac Residential school operated from 1922 to 1976 by the Roman Catholic Church, 160 kilometres west of Prince George, deep in Carrier country. As such the majority of children who attended here were Carrier children, although Sekani and Gitksan children attended as well. In January of 1937 four young boys froze to death as they ran away from the school. This tragedy made national headlines and started a call for investigations and reports about residential schools.

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