Dozens of people gathered outside of the entrance of the Ki-Low-Na Friendship Society on Wednesday (Sept. 29) for a ceremony that honoured the inaugural National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on Sept. 30.
“It’s an important day before the important day. We are doing truth and reconciliation a day early,” said Edna Terbasket, the executive director of the Ki-Low-Na Friendship Society.
“I thought it was really important that the staff have the day off to do what they need to do for truth and reconciliation.”
The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is a day dedicated to honouring and commemorating victims of Canada’s residential school system, as well as their families and communities.
Traditionally celebrated as Orange Shirt Day, the launch of a statutory holiday on Sept. 30 is a direct response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action, with a call to action number 80 asking the Canadian government to designate a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
“Truth is a really important word. We all need to start speaking the truth,” said Terbasket. “Right from higher government to the provincial government to municipality – all layers of government.”
Kelowna city councillors Mohini Singh and Loyal Wooldridge, as well as Kelowna-Lake Country MP Tracy Gray, were in attendance. Many wore orange shirts, a national symbol that honours victims of residential schools.
The orange shirt was inspired by Phyllis Jack Webstad, a Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation Elder in Williams Lake, and her first day at residential school in 1973 when she was six.
“When I got to the Mission, they stripped me, and took away my clothes, including the orange shirt! I never wore it again,” Webstad said on the Orange Shirt Day website.
Smudging was offered at the ceremony in Kelowna and food was distributed amongst the crowd. Red dresses in honour of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls lined the building’s gate. Drum songs were performed, and a number of residential school victims shared their experiences with the group.
“I’m a residential school survivor. My mom – we had to go to a bus stop that was in Lake Country. My brothers and sisters, they were getting on the bus,” said Janice Marie August.
“I was five years old. I was so excited, I thought I was a big girl. I wanted to be with my brothers and sisters.”
While the children were young, August said they weren’t oblivious to what was going on.
“They didn’t mess around in the schools – the priests and nuns did whatever they wanted to do with us,” said August.
Terbasket said that the education system needs to tell the truth about the true intention of Canada’s residential school system.
“Those textbooks need to change. They need to reflect on who we are and where we come from. They need to reflect on the horrific abuse that our people have been subject to,” she said.
“People don’t like that word – genocide. But it was cultural genocide. That’s truth. I think the Canadian government, the churches, all need to acknowledge truth.”