Through my work, I often get to witness religious practices and rituals which can of course be quite moving, especially when someone involved shares some insight on what the practice means to them. But every once in a while, something happens that is pure magic.

Recently, in Campbell River, an Indigenous group was performing a waterside ceremony honouring the lives of the 215 children found at the Kamloops Indian Residential School, when four Orcas appeared. The significance was unmistakable. The number four is sacred in Indigenous cultures, signifying the four directions, the four elements, four phases of the moon, four stages to humanity’s spiritual evolution. And Orcas are said to symbolize family and to protect travelers and lead them home when the time comes.

In a video of the event, a young Indigenous man, Cory, talks about the ceremony’s meaning, and the significance of the Orcas’ appearance. He also commented that this ceremony for those young lives should have happened years ago – and he is right.

All of us, regardless of our beliefs or traditions, are grappling with the horrific stories left in the wake of the residential schools. For those who are Indigenous or who are practicing Catholics, there are additional layers of grief and heartbreak to reconcile and as a society we must expand our capacity for compassion and commit to ensuring this can never happen again.

Across the country, people spontaneously created memorials of kids’ shoes to remember the children murdered in residential schools in Kamloops and elsewhere.

At Encounter, we are quite comfortable opening difficult conversations to expand awareness but, admittedly, this conversation is more difficult than most. On this topic, we all have so much to learn and unlearn. For those who are not Indigenous but wish to be allies, one challenge is to find resources, experts and guidance that helps us understand both the history and our role in addressing and righting the wrongs done to Indigenous people. The responsibility for this rests with us – we cannot ask those who suffered to then be responsible for teaching us about that suffering. We must educate ourselves including seeking opportunities to listen and to establish personal relationships with Indigenous people so we can hear their stories. We should have been listening years ago.

Suggested Resources for Learning

In Thomas King’s 2003 Massey Lecture The Truth about Stories, King takes us on a journey through literature, history, religion and politics, culture and protest to help us understand our relationship with Indigenous communities. You can read the lectures but I have a different suggestion: listen to them. Oral storytelling is much of the point and King is a master.

Missing and Murdered is Connie Walker’s investigative podcast where each season explores the disappearance of an Indigenous woman in Canada. The series is poignant and unbelievably gripping.

Indian Horse is a heart-wrenching yet beautiful novel by the brilliant Richard Wagamese, telling the story of Saul Indian Horse whose hockey skills offer a potential ticket out of residential schools and into the big leagues. But he learns he cannot escape his past or his identity. Every once in a while, I finish a book of such beauty that I just sit there holding it, letting it wash over me and being grateful for the author’s gift to me. This is one of those books. Wagamese offers you a treasure.

Bob Joseph, a member of the Gwawa’enuk Nation, and a hereditary chief of the Gayaxala clan has written two books, 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act and Indigenous Relations: Insights, Tips, and Suggestions to Make Reconciliation a Reality. He also offers training programs to enhance understanding of Indigenous culture and issues for non-Indigenous people.

Lastly, I offer the prayer written by Métis Elder Little Brown Bear following the discovery of the remains of the 215 children at Kamloops Indian Residential School. I consider him a really great man and his words speak of both pain and the healing he has dedicated his life to.

 If you have other recommendations, please leave them in the comments.

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    One Comment

    1. Elaine Sutherns June 18, 2021 at 4:42 pm - Reply

      Michelle Gold’s novel Five Little Indians takes the reader through the adult lives of her characters & how their experiences at residential school affected their lives & relationships as adults.

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