Dozens of people from all ages and backgrounds gathered outside of the Westbank First Nation (WFN) office in Kelowna on Saturday (June 26), which served as one of five caravan start points for the Caravan in Unity convoy event that eventually made its way to the site of the former Kamloops Residential School later that day.
People began convening at the site, located just off of Highway 97, at around 9:15 a.m., as they waited to hit the road with a group travelling up the highway from a Penticton caravan start point.
At around 9:50 a.m., the group in Kelowna joined the Penticton convoy and embarked towards the remaining caravan start points in Coldstream, Westwold and Kamloops. Some stayed behind — many of whom were wearing orange shirts — to wave at cars passing by on the highway.
Before departing from Kelowna, a prayer was said by Elder Rose Caldwell, an Okanagan language teacher, which was then followed by a speech made by WFN chief Christopher Derickson and a drum song performed by WFN councillor Jordan Coble.
Derickson said that the purpose of the Caravan in Unity event was to honour the 215 children whose remains were found at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in May, and for the recent discovery of 751 unmarked graves at a cemetery near the former Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan.
“That’s why we’re here today; to remember them, to honour them, but then to remember the generations that are coming ahead of us,” said Derickson.
He told the crowd Canada needs to change.
“It’s time for this nation to wake up and realize it’s a racist nation. Indigenous peoples have been fighting for equality and our rights for generations, and it’s about time we had to stop fighting and Canada would just recognize that we are here, we’re here to stay,” he said.
Indigenous children, he continued, won’t be taken away again.
“We’re going to make this nation better, because this is our nation,” he said. “We were here first. We’ve always been here and we will always be here.”
The National Indian Residential School Crisis Line can be reached at 1-866-925-4419