Jade Tomma and I attended the Truth and Reconciliation ceremony at Salmon Arm’s  Jackson Campus on Friday, September 30. It was a fitting day. It was Jade’s last day at the Salmon Arm Museum. She’d been hired on the Get Youth Working Program to design a layout and create the text for a permanent exhibit in the gallery of the Montebello building. The exhibit, Knowing the Land Beneath Our Feet, is to be an introduction to the story of Secwepemc people. Jade has been working hard to put into words what her culture means to her.

Jade and I found seats on the floor in the gymnasium. The bleachers were full. There were several hundred students in attendance. Orange Shirt day.JPG

The ceremony began.  The special guests walked in wearing orange shirts. Many had attended residential schools. Irene LaBoucane, the Principal of Aboriginal Education, introduced the program. She’d invited me to the ceremony.

The event started with a traditional drum welcome by students. The video, Every Child Matters, followed. It featured Phyllis Webstad and the orange shirt project. Each person wearing an orange shirt was remembering and honouring residential school survivors.

Phyllis began with an account of the first day of school. She had just turned six.

Remember your first day of school? I do. We coloured a picture of an apple with parents hovering in the background. My dad was at the back of the class. I was scared. I think I remember crying.

Phyllis had very different memories. She grew up on Dog Creek reserve, an hour and a half southwest of Williams Lake. Phyllis’ family prepared her for school. Her grandmother took her to Robinson’s Store and she picked out a shiny new red shirt to wear to go to school in.

“It was an exciting time,” Phyllis said, remembering buying a new shirt to wear on her first day. 

But when Phyllis arrived at the St. Joseph Indian Residential School near Williams Lake, the children were stripped of their clothing. She never saw that shirt again.

Residential school was devastating. “We just didn’t matter,” Phyllis said in the video. “We had to stay there for 300 sleeps.” Phyllis just wanted to go home. No matter how much she and others cried, no one listened.

Every child matters, even if they are adults.

Remembering, recovering and reconciling. That’s what this ceremony was all about. Pretty impressive.