A circle of people drummed and sang at Lebourdais Park in Quesnel while standing in solidarity Saturday afternoon to honour the 215 children who never returned home from the Kamloops Indian Residential School.
Nazko First Nation Chief Leah Stump thanked everyone for their attendance before two prayers — one in Carrier and the other in Tsilhqot’in — were provided.
“I have this lump in my throat,” said Terrence Paul, a local Sundancer, pipe carrier and lodge-keeper.
Paul sang a prayer for the lost children and their families, relatives, communities and nations, and to call upon the spirits to be with and look after present elders, children and those struggling with alcoholism or drug abuse, and the remnants of residential school and colonialism.
“I am a survivor from the Williams Lake [St. Joseph’s Mission] residential school where there are still unmarked graves that still need to be investigated,” Paul added.
“I’m one of the fortunate ones that made it home.”
The buried remains of the more than 200 children at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School site was recently confirmed by the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc (Kamloops Indian Band) with the help of a ground-penetrating radar specialist.
“Those are children that never came home as Terrence had alluded to,” ?Esdilagh First Nation Coun. Chad Stump said.
Noting the resilience of Indigenous people, Stump said they continue fighting, surviving and moving forward in a world that is not their way.
”We thank Chief Leah for putting together a circle and putting together the opportunity for us to pay our respects for those people that lost their lives.”
Approximately 75 attendees stood near each other in a circle as First Nations peoples of all ages beat drums and sang, some visibly holding back tears.
Before the “Tsilhqot’in Warrior” song Coun. Stump said well-respected Tsilhqot’in Nation elder Cecil Grinder taught them the drum is the heartbeat of their people.
“This is what is going to carry us on,” he said.
“This is what’s going to keep us proud moving forward is using our drum, using it at settings, using it for our guests, our visitors and our neighbours.”
Nazko elder Doreen Patrick offered a closing prayer and said the discovery of the 215 children was a very painful confirmation for survivors.
She said children are our world right now.
“There is evil in this world,” Patrick said.
“They’re kidnapping our children, they’re giving our children drugs, they’re giving our children alcohol and it’s killing our young people. They’re precious—our children and grandchildren.”
After the ceremony, Paul told Black Press Media it is not enough to just hear apologies and acknowledgments from governments that continue to establish injustices as genocidal laws.
“We need action,” he said.
“This latest discovery and the magnitude of this atrocity must not be left unjustified.”
The National Indian Residential School Crisis Line can be reached at 1-866-925-4419.