There is content in this article about residential schools that may be triggering to some readers.
Respect, safety, inclusion, love.
These are some of the qualities Vernon students think schools should embody, in contrast to the devastating qualities of Canada’s past residential schools.
Students at BX Elementary School got a head start on the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on Thursday, Sept. 29.
At an assembly outside the school, more than 500 orange-clad students, staff and guests stood in a massive circle, holding orange ribbons hand in hand, while in the centre of the circle nine-year-old Jazmin Robins-Swanson performed a women’s traditional dance, wearing a traditional Indigenous dress.
Vice-principal Louise Alexander said when she was elementary school aged, she knew nothing about Canada’s residential schools — schools that still existed at that time.
“They were told to not speak their language, their hair was cut, they were wearing uniforms, they couldn’t connect with their siblings, and I went home to my family and I was able to wear whatever I want, speak to whoever I want in my language,” Alexander said. “So it really makes me sad to know that when I was growing up there were children who couldn’t do what I did.”
Alexander said the last residential school was closed in 1996, after she had already had her first child.
“There was over 139 (schools) across the country and over 150,000 students were taken there,” she said.
This year the kids at BX prepared paper feathers scrawled with words describing what they believe school should be about — respect, safety, love — and pinned them to the school building. Inside, the feathers were arranged on a wall in the shape of a pair of wings.
Some students also read out poems during the assembly, which were solemnly observed by students and adults alike.
Alexander said students have been learning about the residential school system in the classroom, adding her hope is that Canada learns from its past.
“I want them to know what happened and that children all matter and that those Indigenous kids that were taken from their families mattered, and that school should be a place of learning and caring and loving,” she said.
Guests included Katherine Oviatt, assistant superintendent for the Vernon School District, and Gwen Louis representing the Okanagan Indian Band.
Friday, Sept. 30, is the annual National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, a day to honour survivors as well as the children who never returned home from residential schools. It’s the second federal statutory day for Truth and Reconciliation after the federal government passed Bill C-5 in June 2021.
The Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line is available 24 hours a day for anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of their residential school experience. Non-emergency calls to The Indian Residential Schools Survivors Society can be directed to 1-800-721-0066.