Friday’s event saw some of the community’s 46 known living survivors lead hundreds of people through the streets of Enderby.
“The importance of this day cannot be understated,” said Splatsin Kukpi7 Doug Thomas.
“The school seperated us from our customs and our language. It taught us only to be labourers and from there the missing resources, all our fish and clean water, had a huge affect on our people. Now is the chance for everybody across Canada to recongize this history. Even though it is hard to hear the stories, the dark stories, going forward when we stand together on this day it can bring light to our people.”
The walk was followed by a ceremony outside the Splatsin Community Centre with speeches and music. The names of more than 140 Splatsin children who were taken to residential schools were read out.
The living survivors who were present were invited to come to the front to be recognized.
“These are the people that we honour today,” organizing committee member Deanna Cook told the crowd.
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“Today is a hard day for everybody, but we honour these guys that are still here. We are really sorry for what happened to you, but you are home now.”
The reading of the names and the personal recognition was made possible by work the community has done in recent months to identify Splatsin children taken to residential schools.
So far, without access to official records, they’ve identified more than 140 children dating back to the 1930s.
That list is expected to grow as more research is done into the children who were taken to school prior to living memory.
“A lot of our own people don’t know who the people in our community are that went to residential school. There are second-generation survivors of people that went to residential school that didn’t know their parents or their grandparents went to school. It is a piece of our history that was important to document,” said Tswum Rosalind Williams, a residential school survivor, who is involved in compiling the list.
Thomas said it was important to read out the names and recognize the survivors personally because there are so few of them left.
“Of course, they are not just names. They are sisters and brothers,” Thomas said. “Some of them didn’t even make it out of school as evidenced by these children that were found on the residential school grounds. But not only that. I have one uncle left out of seven. The effects of oppression lead to a lot of addiction issues. A lot of our people went to the grave not realizing that they mattered.”
Beyond the ceremony, work is also underway to recognize survivors through a local monument. Thousands of dollars have been raised.
“Yesterday we had a meeting with our survivors and they were designing the monument and giving their ideas for the monument. But they said it is the first time since they came home from residential school that anyone has acknowledged them as being survivors of residential school so it meant a lot to them,” Cook said.