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Nanaimo showed its willingness to listen and to think about the meaning of Canada’s first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
Hundreds of people gathered at Maffeo Sutton Park on Thursday, Sept. 30, for a ceremony organized by Snuneymuxw First Nation, the City of Nanaimo and Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools.
Snuneymuxw Chief Mike Wyse said he encouraged people to take a moment to “truly and meaningfully reflect” on the purpose of the gathering.
He talked about how those who were forced to attend residential schools were forbidden to speak their language and how they were subjected to other mental, emotional, physical and spiritual abuses. He talked about how patients at Indian hospitals were experimented upon and tortured.
“For generations now, to this day, Snuneymuxw people walk through life carrying these burdens without acknowledgement, and [faced with] denial of these violent experiences of our history,” Wyse said. “This history is passed down to our young people, causing intergenerational trauma within our families and community.”
The truth and reconciliation work ahead will undoubtedly be challenging, said the chief, but he said it is overdue and necessary. He mentioned health-care reform in B.C., to make it more culturally appropriate, as one example.
“We must undo the shackles to colonial ways of thinking, actions, laws and policies that are the cause of inequity, injustice and imbalance within society and between peoples and reinforce respect for Indigenous cultures, rights and titles,” Wyse said.
He said Snuneymuxw First Nation urges the Canadian government “to bring forward meaningful, long-lasting, immediate and robust justice for their actions” and support a path of healing and peace.
Elder Lolly Good, a residential school survivor, said it took her years to be able to speak about her experiences, but said talking about it helps with healing. She used the metaphor of a “lost fish” to share her personal sufferings: anxiety, low self-esteem, loss of identity, loneliness, shame, resentment, heartache, anger and hopelessness.
Elder Gary Manson, another residential school survivor, was grateful to see the number of people who attended Thursday’s event. He expressed a desire to “hang onto the things that were lost” during the residential school era, such as Indigenous languages, and said it’s “medicine” to him to see young people learning about First Nations culture.
Indigenous leaders call for ‘concrete action’ on first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation https://t.co/IJTxWR8CI0
— Nanaimo Bulletin (@NanaimoBulletin) September 30, 2021
School board chairperson Charlene McKay said the school district stands with Snuneymuxw and will “listen to understand” and allow Indigenous knowledge and stories to guide work in education.
“We have an obligation to the ancestors, the future generations and most importantly to the children of today to educate with care, compassion and with love in our hearts,” she said. “We absolutely must challenge the narrative and bias.”
Mayor Leonard Krog said the turnout to Thursday’s event speaks well of the community.
“I look forward to a future where we will celebrate this country and what we have built together, conscious of our past, trying to compensate and reconcile, but making a better country for all of us,” he said.
Nanaimo MLA Sheila Malcolmson suggested that the relationships that have been built over the years means that during times of hardship, there is a foundation of friendship and partnership.
“I feel every day the bravery of the survivors and I am so sorry to those who have passed who didn’t get to be standing together on a day like today to see that we are working towards a new chapter,” she said. “We have a lot of work to do.”