Songs and prayers in Halq’eméylem, the language of the Stó:lō people, sounded across Trinity Western’s Langley campus this week, as the TWU community of faculty, staff, students and alumni met to remember and grieve the victims of Indian residential schools.
In light of the recent news of the remains of 215 children found at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, a series of prayer and remembrance vigils is being hosted by University Siya:m Patricia Victor together with TWU’s executive leadership team. The first of these ceremonies took place on Tuesday, June 8. Two more vigils are to be hosted on Thursday, June 10.
“The intention of our gathering today is for us to pray together, to learn and to listen,” Victor said during the first vigil on June 8. “First steps for many. Learning how to walk together in a good way.”
Victor is Stó:lō from Cheam First Nation. She is an ordained minister and serves as the section pastor of Aboriginal Ministries in the BC-Yukon district and the coordinator of Aboriginal Ministries with the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada.
Victor opened the ceremony with songs.
“It is a privilege to stand here today to worship God and to honour God with drum and with song, to sing in Halq’eméylem language,” she began.
Victor led the TWU community in a time of silence to remember the 215 children and to join the Indigenous community in mourning.
At the end of the silence, the TWU Library bell tower sounded out. The smallest bell chime rang 215 times, once for each child’s life. The largest chime rang once at the end, symbolizing an ongoing journey to recover and heal from the past.
“There is not one family all across turtle island who is not grieving this loss,” Victor said. “There is not one Indigenous community who is untouched by this devastating news. Our nation is mourning.”
Victor also invited Rev. Bruce Brown and his wife, Adeline Brown, to speak to the TWU community. The Browns are Haida from Haida Gwaii, and both are survivors of residential schools. Rev. Brown and his wife have pastored at Vancouver Native Pentecostal Church for more than 30 years. In addition, Adeline Brown is an art therapist who has worked for the Indian Residential School Survivors Society for more than 15 years.
Following remarks by the Browns, TWU’s executive leadership team addressed the Indigenous leaders in response.
Dr. Sonya Grypma, TWU vice provost of Leadership and Graduate Studies, is a long-time nurse and nursing historian. As a former outpost nurse who worked in a remote fly-in Indigenous community, Dr. Grypma “bore witness to the pain and the brokenness associated with residential schools.”
“No one in that village was unaffected,” she said of the emotional trauma caused by residential schools.
In response to the news of the unmarked graves discovered at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School,
Dr. Grypma said that she felt “horrified.”
Dr. Bob Wood, TWU provost, described the news as “heartbreaking” and “tragic.”
“We have a duty to honour and remember the 215 Indigenous children who inhabited the Kamloops Indian Residential School,” said Dr. Mark Husbands, TWU president.
“As a Christian university we resolve to walk with our Indigenous brothers and sisters. We acknowledge that you have endured and are enduring great loss and grief. We recognize that the news of the abuse and death of children has been with you for many, many years, and now is confirmed.”
“As we learn to stand and walk with you, we promise to uphold you in prayer,” he continued. “We are so honoured to be on this journey with you.”
"Our prayers and tears are with Indigenous communities, residential school survivors, and our Indigenous staff, faculty, and students. We share their sense of heartbreaking loss." — Dr. Husbands, TWU President
— Trinity Western University (@TrinityWestern) June 1, 2021
Victor responds to people asking how they can help In recent days and weeks, many people have written or sent text messages to Victor, asking what they can do to help or how to come alongside.
Some of the ideas that Victor has shared in response include:
• Hold 215 minutes of personal silence to remember the 215 missing children.
• Have conversations with your own children and grandchildren about the 215 children whose lives were stolen.
• Have conversations with your colleagues, church and community about the history of colonization, which includes Indian residential schools, the Sixties Scoop, the reserve system, and the Indian Act.
• Contact a Member of Parliament to express support for implementing all of the Truth and Reconciliation calls to action, including those relating to missing children and burial information.
• Consider donating to organizations supporting residential school survivors, such as the Indian Residential Schools Survivors Society or the Legacy of Hope Foundation.
• If you are non-Indigenous, educate yourself and help educate others about the Indian residential school system. Take a look at documentaries such as We Were Children, books such as Pathways of Reconciliation, or read the Truth and Reconciliation blog and the final report.
• Discover and read Indigenous books and poetry for adults, youth and children.
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