Bubbles floated on air currents Thursday past hundreds of wooden crosses erected by community members to honour the children who died and were buried in unmarked graves at residential schools.
While Indigenous community members drummed Thursday afternoon as part of a public commemoration of the Sept. 30 National Day of Truth and Reconciliation, children throughout the large crowd at the Derek Doubleday Arboretum blew bubbles, a common childhood toy meant to contrast with the lack of play afforded to children at residential schools.
The public was invited to the arboretum by community members who organized by gathering to give people a chance to pause and reflect. But the weather called for rain so organizers were surprised by the capacity crowd of about 1,000.
Cecelia Reekie, one of the organizers and a former Langley School District trustee, put out a social media post about an informal event that day.
”I was obviously expecting a few people, just not as many as showed up,” she said. “It was really amazing, way beyond what I ever could have imagined for our community.”
She said this was an opportunity for people of this community to meet and engage, have conversations about this country’s history, reconciliation and what the future looks like.
“It really signifies the shift I think has happened,” Reekie said.
Canadian society is more open to learning the truth of the past and changing the relationship with Indigenous people.
“I’ve said reconciliation is messy,” Reekie said. “It’s not easy. It’s complicated. We don’t know the answer and we don’t even truly know what it looks like. There’s so many who are willing to engage in difficult conversations.”
Larry and Joanne Feuer attended to show support to the Indigenous community as it strives to heal from the inter-generational impacts of residential schools.
“We came today because we felt it very important to be here, Larry said. “It’s an important time. We owe it to the Indigenous people to go the extra yard, to make up with we did to them.”
Between 1 and 7 p.m., people were encouraged to walk the arboretum’s paths which are lined with the crosses and signs detailing residential schools in Canada in language appropriate for school-age children.
Each cross is adorned with a solar-powered light that turns on at dusk. As part of the event, people could create designs or write messages on laminated hearts to attach to the crosses. Reekie said the display will likely stay up for the future but there’s informal discussions on a permanent memorial in the community.
“I do want to keep something to keep the conversation going,” she noted.
As part of their Truth and Reconciliation journey, grade 5 students at Langley Fundamental Elementary walked to the Derek Doubleday Arboretum to honour survivors of Residential Schools and the children who didn’t return home. #MySD35Community #NDTR2021 pic.twitter.com/gFLJYsq2IZ
— Langley Schools (@LangleySchools) September 30, 2021
Earlier this summer, after the discovery of the remains of 215 children at the Kamloops Residential School, the crosses were erected with the clothing of children and a public memorial was held.
Since then, ground penetrating radar has been used at various closed residential schools and Indian hospitals. Official records from the past show 4,120 children died but searches at four schools have revealed more than 1,300 remains and there were 139 residential schools across the country. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 93 recommendations included searches at all the school sites. The last residential school closed in 1997. Over a century, about 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to go to residential schools.
This was the first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation. Reekie admits to being of two minds about the day. She’s pleased that society is changing but would like to see better leadership from those in charge at all levels of government, noting the dismal optics of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau vacationing at the time, instead of honouring the day with the intended reflection.
Public sector workers had a day off work but most Canadians were still on the job that day. Reekie said in the future, maybe workplaces could use the day for staff sessions on education and outreach.
“Those in leadership have to have the will, so we need to see the leadership have that will but certainly, for Canadians, I think we are all ready, we are all ready to try and sort this out,” she said.
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