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Okanagan students wear orange to lighten dark residential school history

‘In school I should feel accepted,’ Vernon elementary child says

For the students of today, the dark history of suffering children endured in residential schools is horrifying.

“In school I should feel important,” were the words of one BX Elementary student during a special assembly Wednesday, Sept. 29.

“In school we should feel secure,” an orange-clad classmate said.

“In school we should feel special,” said another, and the list went on to include “cared for,” “accepted,” “awesome,” and more.

The pain that Canada’s Indigenous children were subject to at residential schools was the focus of the 416 BX students during Orange Shirt Day.

“We know schools should not be like that,” vice principal Louise Alexander said.

Joined by members of the Okanagan Indian Band, the school also marked a momentous occasion.

“You are part of history,” Alexander told the students who were looking forward to a day off Thursday, Sept. 30. “This is Canada’s first day of truth and reconciliation.”

The federal statutory holiday is more than just a day off for kids and some adults, it’s a time for action to honour those affected by residential schools.

Okanagan Indian Band councillor Allan Louis is pleased to see that action come into place with the raising of the Suknoainx flag at local schools. And more so, the teachings of Canada’s Indigenous history.

“When I was growing up we talked about history,” said Louis, who was thrilled to learn about the Romans and other historic people. “At some point I often wondered, why don’t we talk about the history of my family at home?”

With the recent discovery of 215 unmarked graves at the Kamloops Residential School, followed by hundreds more across the country, that dark past is coming to light.

So is the lighter past. Like the fact that while many Indigenous people live on Westside, the entire region was once their home.

“Our main villages were close to Polson Park,” Louis said, also explaining that houses in Coldstream provided access to streams for fishing and Silver Star was a popular place to gather berries and plants, instead of the ski destination it is today.

“I’m glad we are having a chance to share our knowledge in schools now,” Louis said. “There’s a lot more stories that we can share.”

Syilx art is also being shared at BX, as David Wilson Sookinakin created a mural for the newly upgraded school, which was unveiled at the outdoor assembly.

“We have been studying his art as inspiration for our very own pieces,” Grade 7 student Olivia Doorman said.

Wilson’s large, round artwork includes bears, the school’s mascot, and will adorn the front entrance of the school.

READ MORE: ‘Truth and reconciliation is an action, not a day off’: Lower Similkameen Indian Band chief

READ MORE: Teaching Canadians to observe solemn new Truth and Reconciliation Day could take time


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Jennifer Smith

About the Author: Jennifer Smith

Vernon has always been my home, and I've been working at The Morning Star since 2004.
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