Hundreds of people gathered in Penticton on Saturday, Sept. 30, to recognize the third annual National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
On a sombre day of reflection nationwide, a sea of orange shirts could be seen locally as hundreds of people, Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike, took part in a two-kilometre Walk for Reconciliation.
The day honours the children who never returned home and survivors of residential schools, as well as their families and communities.
Penticton Indian Band Chief Greg Gabriel reflected on the importance of the day before members of the Syilx Okanagan Nation, allies and friends started their journey from the Safeway parking lot to the Syilx Indian Residential School Monument.
“This is important because it reminds everyone of that dark period in Canadian history, and especially the trauma that it inflicted on us as people,” Gabriel said. “We still have residential school survivors with us and sadly, a lot of the reason we’re here is because of a lot of people who went through that system never came home.”
While there were drummers and singers taking part in the Walk for Reconciliation, some spent the gathering sharing their own stories with others and reflecting on what the day meant to them.
Among those was Herman Edward, a residential school survivor and member of the Lower Similkameen Indian Band.
“I come to honour those who never made it every year, like my cousin, who was one of the 215 who didn’t return from Kamloops Indian Residential School,” said Edward, a student from 1960 to 1961 at the St. Eugene’s Mission School near Cranbrook.
“It wasn’t always easy to talk about because a lot of our people were mistreated. In my years, we were only seen and not heard.”
Edward and hundreds of others made their way to the Syilx Indian Residential School Monument outside the Penticton Hatchery on En’owkin Trail, starting at 10 a.m.
It was there that more members of the community listened to stories and joined in the day of observance and reflection.
“This certainly helps us in our journey toward someday of reconciliation,” Gabriel said. “The journey of Truth and Reconciliation itself is going to be a long one, and when I see all the people here join us to recognize this one day, that is part of our journey and it is needed.
“We as a society need to come together and recognize the atrocities that happened.”
Gabriel also noted the importance of 94 calls to action, as published in 2015 by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.
The B.C. government passed legislation earlier this year to make Sept. 30, a statutory holiday.
It is also known as Orange Shirt Day, which was inspired by the accounts of Phyllis Jack Webstad.
Webstad is a residential school survivor whose personal clothing, including an orange shirt, was taken from her during her first day of residential school, and never returned.
The orange shirt is now used as a symbol for the forced assimilation of Indigenous children that the residential school system enforced.