Warning: This story deals with disturbing subject matter. Discretion is advised.
A sea of orange flooded the University of British Columbia’s Vancouver campus as hundreds gathered for the fourth annual intergenerational march on National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
The first march took place on Sept. 30, 2021, the same year Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc announced the findings of 215 potential unmarked graves at the site of former Kamloops Indian Residential School.
“I feel a responsibility to be involved,” said Danilo Caron, a PhD candidate in civil engineering at UBC. “Over the years it’s grown and that’s largely due to a willingness of people to contribute – both Indigenous and non-Indigenous.”
The weight of Sept. 30 is heavy for Indigenous people because of the lasting impacts of colonialism and the intergenerational trauma the Indian residential school system has caused communities. Caron, a member of Sagamok Anishnawbek First Nation, has been involved in the march since its inception.
“My mom is a residential school survivor, and my grandmother and my aunties and uncles are day school survivors and have a half-sister who’s a 60 Scoop survivor,” he said. “So I feel that responsibility, I’m not sure where it ends and where my responsibility just kind of picks up. So I’m still navigating that.”
Dana-Lyn Mackenzie has also been involved in the march since its inception. She’s a member of Hwlitsum First Nation and senior manager of equity, diversity, inclusion and indigeneity at the university.
“I feel such a responsibility for this event in particular because we’re all intergenerational survivors,” she said. “We have grandparents and people in our communities that either survived residential schools or didn’t, and know people that were lost along the way to substance or alcohol abuse.”
“I really feel that I’m doing this to honor my ancestors … as time goes by and as I’ve been raising my own children, I feel this need to make it a better place a little bit for my own kids and for the generations to come.“
This year is the first year National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is a statutory holiday in British Columbia and Mackenzie says it’s long overdue.
“I’m glad that people have this day to go out and get educated and learn more and bring their families,” she said. “In my generation, nobody learned this in school and I see the difference with my kids in high school and what they’re learning; really good steps and changes are being made so this is all part of those good steps and changes — it’s about time.“
Mackenzie has been thinking a lot about what it means for students, staff and faculty to meaningfully engage in reconciliation.
“We’ve created a beautiful course called Weaving Relations … and it’s in solidarity with other educational offerings,” she said. “We’ve had over 1,500 enrollees and we only officially launched it on June 21 — Indigenous Peoples Day.”
The course is self-directed and explores Indigenous history, people and language, and settler colonialism all through the lens of Indigenous-Canadian relationships.
Part of the content that can be learned through Weaving Relations is seen during the intergenerational march.
“We interspersed the space in between the informational signs to say, ‘How can you build a better future as a white settler, as a racialized settler?'” Mackenzie told Global News. “Learn about the Oka Crisis, the 60s Scoop, how many of our children end up in care, about the racism that happens in the health-care system, the criminal justice system, you know.
“And for us, it’s how can we make the university better for Indigenous kids, make it better for the one staff person in the faculty so that they don’t have to keep justifying themselves, explaining themselves, and they don’t have to bear this huge emotional burden of explaining every piece of Indigenous history and knowledge so they can live their lives and do what they want to do.”
The Indian Residential School Survivors Society operates the Lamathut Crisis Line a 24-hour crisis line (1-800-721-0066) to support survivors and families.