Tl’etinqox women find strength at former B.C. Interior residential school site

A dream catcher with 91 ties of tobacco was placed over a fire. The ties represent the 91 years St. Joseph’s Mission operated as a residential school. (Rebecca Dyok photo)A dream catcher with 91 ties of tobacco was placed over a fire. The ties represent the 91 years St. Joseph’s Mission operated as a residential school. (Rebecca Dyok photo)
Williams Lake First Nation Chief Willie Sellars (right) drums alongside Tl’etinqox women during a Dec. 2 healing ceremony. (Rebecca Dyok photo)Williams Lake First Nation Chief Willie Sellars (right) drums alongside Tl’etinqox women during a Dec. 2 healing ceremony. (Rebecca Dyok photo)
St. Joseph’s Mission operated near Williams Lake from July 19, 1891 to June 30, 1981. The school was demolished in 1987. (Rebecca Dyok photo)St. Joseph’s Mission operated near Williams Lake from July 19, 1891 to June 30, 1981. The school was demolished in 1987. (Rebecca Dyok photo)
Tl’etinqox Women’s Council hosted a small ceremony at the site of former St. Joseph’s Mission near Williams Lake. (Rebecca Dyok photo)Tl’etinqox Women’s Council hosted a small ceremony at the site of former St. Joseph’s Mission near Williams Lake. (Rebecca Dyok photo)
Tsilhqot’in and Secwepemc peoples participated in a healing ceremony at the former site St. Joseph’s Mission earlier this week. (Rebecca Dyok photo)Tsilhqot’in and Secwepemc peoples participated in a healing ceremony at the former site St. Joseph’s Mission earlier this week. (Rebecca Dyok photo)
Ties of tobacco were strung to braided orange ribbons making up a dream catcher. The dream catcher was later burned following singing and drumming. (Rebecca Dyok photo)Ties of tobacco were strung to braided orange ribbons making up a dream catcher. The dream catcher was later burned following singing and drumming. (Rebecca Dyok photo)
A dream catcher with ties of tobacco burns in a Dec. 2. healing ceremony where a residential school once was. (Rebecca Dyok photo)A dream catcher with ties of tobacco burns in a Dec. 2. healing ceremony where a residential school once was. (Rebecca Dyok photo)

It was the beginning of a new healing journey for Tl’etinqox women as the orange braided ribbons of a dream catcher strung with 91 ties of tobacco burned in a small fire at the site where one of Canada’s most notorious residential schools once stood.

The ties symbolized the 91 years St. Joseph’s Mission operated just south of Williams Lake in the traditional territory of Williams Lake First Nation (WLFN).

“I think even though the building is gone, the tears haven’t gone yet,” said Melanie Johnny.

“A lot of them didn’t go home, and those that went home didn’t really go home because they’re still stuck here in a lot of ways.”

Held early Wednesday afternoon (Dec. 2) on a day with strong winds mixed amid the winter chill, the ceremony was part of a video project led by Tl’etinqox Women’s Council, of which Johnny and Angelina Stump are representatives.

Johnny said First Nations parents were threatened their children would be taken away by authorities if they refused to send them to residential school.

For three years, she attended the Mission located just a few kilometres from the WLFN community of Sugar Cane, but more than 100 kilometres from her Tsilhqot’in community west of Williams Lake.

Read More: First returning spirit bike ride held at site of former residential school near Williams Lake

“Not only did things happen at the school itself, but out on the land,” Johnny said, noting the various levels of abuse that occurred, including spiritual, physical and sexual.

Her six brothers and five sisters also attended, and she recalled hearing of how a small group of boys snuck away from their main fishing group on the frozen waters of Williams Lake. Some had fallen through the ice, Johnny said she had heard.

Those who managed to pull themselves out ran back to the main group for help but were instead immediately reprimanded and disbelieved.

“So they didn’t come back come,” she said of the trapped boys.

Attended by Williams Lake First Nation Chief Willie Sellars and Tl’etinqox Chief Joe Alphonse, Johnny said the ceremony was to ease the insurmountable sufferings that happened and to move forward in a good way.

“Today was a good start,” said Alphonse, who gifted Williams Lake RCMP Const. Adam Hildebrandt a spirit stick carved in the shape of a raven.

Read More: Orange Shirt Society launches first textbook on residential school history

“As I told Chief Sellars, the road for healing is often a drive through his community,” Alphonse said. “And we’re here to work with them and to make sure that healing happens.”

Sellars said the opportunity to participate in a ceremony with another First Nation and learn, is another way to heal.

“I’m going to be able to tell this story to my kids and my community and move forward in a good way, and I’ll be forever grateful for that,” Sellars said.

The video project —‘Strength and Resiliency of Tl’etinqox Women” — is funded by the Government of Canada’s department of Canadian Heritage. Once complete, it will be shown in Tl’etinqox and possibly Williams Lake, said project coordinator Chastity Davis.

For 10 months of the year, thousands of Secwepemc, Tsilhqot’in and Southern Dakelh Carrier children and youth as young as four years old would forcibly attend the Mission until its closure in 1981.


Do you have a comment about this story? email:
rebecca.dyok@wltribune.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

First Nations womenresidential schools

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The artwork for the 2021 mail run was drawn by Sonja Maas, a German student who spent last winter in the Cariboo on a ranch which trains sled dogs. (Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run)
Sled Dogs to hit the trail without spectators

The mail run from Quesnel to Barkerville will be limited in scope because of pandemic rules

Rocks thrown by individuals practising and junior teams can still go up and down the Quesnel sheets under current public health rules. (File Photo)
Quesnel Curling Centre hoping to salvage season

Manager Dave Plant said the club was keeping the ice in until updated rules come down Feb. 5

Quesnel's 2024 BC Winter Games bid gained support from the School Board and CRD joint committee this week. (Submitted photo)
Quesnel’s BC Winter Games bid clears hurdles

Both the school district and regional joint committee agreeed to support the 2024/2026 bid

McNaughton School is located in downtown Quesnel. (Cassidy Dankochik Photo - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
McNaughton Secondary School reports COVID-19 exposure

The case marks the third exposure event in the Quesnel School District

A woman wears a face mask and shield to curb the spread of COVID-19 while walking in North Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday, January 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
536 COVID cases, 7 deaths reported as B.C. finds its first case of South African variant

Henry said 69,746 people have received their first dose of the COVID vaccine.

Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon shared a handwritten note his son received on Jan. 13, 2021. (Ravi Kahlon/Twitter)
Proud dad moment: B.C. minister’s son, 10, receives handwritten note for act of kindness

North Delta MLA took to Twitter to share a letter his son received from a new kid at school

Black Press media file
Port McNeill driver tells police he thought the pandemic meant no breathalyzers

Suspect facing criminal charges after breathalyzer readings in excess of 3.5 times the legal limit

Forestry companies in B.C. agree to abide by the cedar protocols based on traditional laws of the First Nation members of the Nanwakolas Council. (Photo courtesy, Nanwakolas Council)
Landmark deal sees B.C. forest firms treat big cedars like a First Nation would

Western Forest Products, Interfor among companies to adapt declaration drafted by Nanwakolas Council

A northern resident killer whale shows injuries sustained by a collision with a vessel in B.C. waters. (Photo supplied by Ocean Wise Conservation Association)
Coast Guard ramps up protections for B.C. whales

First-ever Marine Mammal Desk will enhance cetacean reporting and enforcement

Two toucans sit on tree at an unidentified zoo. (Pixabay.com)
BC SPCA calls for ban on exotic animal trade after 50 parrots, toucans pass through YVR

One toucan was found dead and several others were without food

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to a question during a news conference outside Rideau cottage in Ottawa, Friday, January 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau says Canada’s COVID vaccine plan on track despite Pfizer cutting back deliveries

Canadian officials say country will still likely receive four million doses by the end of March

Letisha Reimer died Nov. 1, 2016 after being stabbed at Abbotsford Senior Secondary.
No evidence that killer was in ‘psychotic state’ during Abbotsford school stabbing: Crown

Second day of closing arguments at ‘not criminally responsible’ hearing for Gabriel Klein

Most Read