A heartfelt message from Agassiz students was heard loud and clear by a group of First Nations elders last week.
The Coqualeetza Elders group received a poster stating, “To Survivors and Family Members of Survivors of Indian Residential Schools, We lift our hands to honour your Courage and your Spirit. From Agassiz Christian School.’ The poster was signed by staff and students at the school during a chapel service that spent time focusing on the tragic history of Canada’s First Nations as well as traditional song and dance presented to the students.
“We were reminded of the residential schools and the sadness around the residential school era, as well as our desire to build bridges with First Nations communities,” says principal John Zeidhoff. “This was indeed a very tragic time for them, and we wanted to show our support.”
The poster was presented to the Coqualeetza Elders group, a multi-Aboriginal group with members from many nations including Sto:lo, Sts’ailes, Haida, Metis and Ojibway, among others. It was presented during a gathering hosted by the Chilliwack Native Pentecostal Church in Sardis on Wednesday, June 11.
Agassiz resident and Sts’ailes member Shirley Leon is a member of the Coqualeetza Elders group. She says the gesture made a deep impact on those gathered to have that suffering acknowledged by local students.
“For these children to learn about it has touched our heart deeply,” says Leon. “That is tremendous.”
While Leon was not a residential school survivor, she says all First Nations people have been affected by a colonialistic system and there were just as many “atrocities” in the federal day schools. She lays little hope in the reports that come out from the federal government and says it will be steps like those taken by students at Agassiz Christian that will bring real healing to this land and its peoples.
“To me, all that money spent [on residential school reports] is not going to do as much good as what these little children did, in this small little community in little old Agassiz,” says Leon. “It’s hard to find the words to express how wonderful it was to have that gesture and acknowledgement.”
Harvey Andrew, a Chawathil Band member living in Agassiz, was also at the Coqualeetza Elders group for the presentation.
“I was quite surprised,” says Andrew of the poster and its message. “It lifted me. We are not so invisible anymore.”
Andrew’s mother attended residential school and says while she never talked about it to him, it certainly had an impact on his upbringing.
“We definitely do need healing,” says Andrew. “We have to give it some time.”