Hundreds took part in a candlelight walk to mark the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in Langley’s Derek Doubleday Arboretum on Saturday, Sept. 30.
Most wore orange shirts that said “every child matters,” inspired by the story of Phyllis Webstad, who was six when she was sent to a residential school in Mission, where the white people in charge took away the pretty orange shirt her family gave her.
For generations, Indigenous children in Canada were forcibly separated from their families and culture and placed in the schools where abuse was common, and some did not survive.
One of the organizers of the Langley event, Rev. Sophia Ducey, a minister with the United Churches of Langley, called it a “day of taking ourselves inside ourselves, to contemplate the entirety of the Canadian history, to open up to the horrific story that has been unfolding.”
Ducey had a message for the many non-Indigenous participants: “do the heavy lifting now, which is learning and taking actions.”
“Keep yourself engaged,” Rev. Ducey told the attendees.
“Don’t fall asleep.”
Co-organizer of the Langley event Cecelia Reekie was in Port Alberni, where her father was sent to the Alberni Indian Residential School, to mark 50 years since the school was closed.
”I think for me and for a lot of Indigenous people [the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation] is about asking people to just slow down and reflect on the history in our country,” said Reekie, who led a campaign to install crosses at the Langley site as a memorial to the first 215 children found buried at the Kamloops Residential School.
”I was talking to students all week, and community organizations, and I was saying to them, ‘you don’t have to wear orange shirts just on September 30th,’” Reekie remarked.
Signs posted by Ducey and Reekie described the arboretum as a place of understanding, “a place of recognizing and honouring all Canadian history, including the painful history of the residential schools and the generations of children and their families who had so much taken from them by that system.”
Hundreds gathered at Derek Doubleday Arboretum in Langley to mark national Truth and Reconciliation Day pic.twitter.com/NHuDlYpizX— Langley Advance Times (@LangleyTimes) October 1, 2023
Among several speakers who shared their personal experiences before the candle light walk began, one described being a victim of the “Sixties scoop” that saw Indigenous children taken from their families.
“I was fostered out to a white family,” John (who didn’t give his last name) recalled.
“I didn’t know my culture, I didn’t know my language, I didn’t know who I am.”
Brookswood resident Una Ann, a retired Indigenous support worker with the Langley school district, was one of a group of drummers, who sang a traditional honour song, and men’s and women’s warrior songs.
”We’re wearing our regalia to show who we are, because we weren’t allowed to wear regalia [back then],” she explained.
“And so I represent my family, and who I am, and where I come from, when I wear my regalia.”
It was the third National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, to honour the children who never returned home and survivors of residential schools, as well as their families and communities.
Also known as Orange Shirt Day, it was designated as a federal holiday in response to the report by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on residential schools.
Members of the Langley Township and City councils, as well as MPs John Aldag and Tako van Popta were in attendance at Derek Doubleday Arboretum.
Township mayor Eric Woodward applauded “all the volunteers and everybody that came here today to make this happen.”
Township councillor Tim Baillie, who is not Indigenous, was wearing an Indigenous veterans pin to protest what he described as the “shameful” way those soldiers were treated after fighting for Canada in the Second World War.
City councillor Leith White viewed the event as an”opportunity to walk forward together, in a different way than how it’s taken place in the past. And so this is an opportunity here to listen, and to reflect, and move forward.’
City Coun. Rosemary Wallace described it as a “very sad” and “important” event, “to support our indigenous peoples and continue to learn.”
Earlier in the day, just before the afternoon Langley Rams game at McLeod Athletic Park on Saturday, Sept. 30 got underway, Cade Manuel South, a Rams defensive lineman in 2022, marked the occasional by drumming the football team on to the field, then explaining the significance of the event for him as an Indigenous person.
“This is not a holiday,” Manuel South said, choking up slightly as explained how he could wear his hair long, something that wouldn’t have been allowed back in the day.
Manuel South also spoke before the start of the Langley Rivermen game that evening.