The first community gathering Katzie First Nation has had since spring of 2020 was a somber affair, but an undercurrent of hope pervaded.
More than a hundred attendees, many sporting orange shirts, got together at the Katzie Reserve on the Fraser River beside Pitt Meadows on June 10 to commemorate the 215 children recently discovered buried at the former residential school in Kamloops.
Chief Grace George acknowledged the last few weeks have been an incredibly challenging time.
“Not only for us as your leadership council, but for each and every one of you,” she said.
“I’ve had an opportunity to connect with many of you, and our council felt it in our hearts to come together today as a community. We know and understand that our strength comes to us in this way.
“Coming together, sharing this time – and our prayer for tonight is that we’re able to have some healing together as a community.”
The legacy of residential schools has impacted the community in many ways.
The grief and emotion comes out in the mournful singing and drumming those gathered heard throughout the nightlong ceremonies.
“Along with the legacy, we know we have survived,” George said. “We have survived through sharing time – time with our elders, and time with our families.
“Sharing our greatest gift – which brings us strength – which is our culture.”
As part of the memorial, small cut-outs of T-shirts and hearts, with stakes attached were handed out to attendees so they could plant them in the garden in front of the band’s community centre.
Children of various ages, who a generation or two ago would have been sent to residential school, took part.
The River Spirit Canoe Club’s drumming group visited from Chilliwack. Its members sung and played their instruments reverentially while the t-shirts and hearts were placed in the ground.
Dinner and a blanketing ceremony followed.
The Katzie First Nation honoured eight people who have acted as community messengers.
Mike Otto, who organized the truck convoy to Kamloops was blanketed. As were Katzie First Nation’s Kayleigh Leon and Dave Derose, who drove in the convoy.
Tracy Elke and Nicole MacDonald were blanketed for being steadfast supporters of the band. Maple Ridge councillor Ahmed Yousef and Myrna Norman, who organized a commemorative gathering for the 215 children found in Kamloops were also honoured. As was Celina Woycheshen who started an orange shirt decal project in Pitt Meadows.
“They have been very busy since the news broke,” George said. “Helping to spread the message about awareness, and helping to spread the message about supporting us.”