Flags at Langley schools will be returned to flying at full mast and a permanent memorial will be created for students who died at Canadian residential schools, the school board has decided.
The decision comes almost exactly a year after approximately 215 unmarked graves were discovered at the former Kamloops Residential School. The discovery set off other similar discoveries, as well as a national conversation about residential schools and Indigenous reconciliation.
The district, like many others across Canda, lowered flags at its board office and schools shortly after the discovery.
On Tuesday, May 24, the Langley school board heard from Michael Pue, district principal of Aboriginal education, and Cheryl Gabriel of the Kwantlen First Nation.
Gabriel spoke about the impact residential schools had on her family, and how the news of the unmarked graves in Kamloops brought back those memories, amid natural disasters that impacted her relatives.
“The 215 was like the flood, was like the fire, like not finding a way home,” Gabriel said.
She lost two aunts on her father’s side in residential schools.
“My grandfather went to go pick them up in the summertime, and was told there, that they had passed away in the winter,” Gabriel said. “We don’t know if that’s true or not, because there’s nothing to substantiate it.”
“I can’t imagine not having my kids with me, my grandkids with me,” she added.
The district’s ya:yestel (Aboriginal Education Advisory Board) has been working since last October on a proposal, after the district decided not to return flags to full mast when the province did last July.
The ya:yestel consulted with the leadership of all four First Nations on which Langley sits – the Kwantlen, Katzie, Matsqui, and Semiahmoo.
From several months of consultation and discussion, a two-part plan has emerged, receiving unanimous approval of the board on Tuesday.
The first part will be an honouring ceremony, to be held on Tuesday, May 31st at the board office. At the end of the ceremony, flags will return to full mast across the district.
“You don’t forget. You don’t ever forget. But you move forward,” said Pue about the decision to end a year of lowered flags.
The second phase will take longer. The distric’s ya:yestel will continue consulting with local Indigenous nations about creating a more permanent monument to residential school victims. Whatever form it takes, it will be used as an educational site for students and staff in the district on the history of residential schools.
“We need you to stand with us,” Gabriel told the board. “We need you to listen to our people. I’m only one person, I cannot speak for all Indigenous people that live, and work, and go to your schools.”
Board members, several of them emotional, spoke about the importance of being allies for Indigenous people.
“Yes, I want to stand with you,” said board chair Rod Ross. He said every member of the board felt the same way.
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