Flags at government buildings in the Cowichan Valley will be lowered throughout the coming week to honour 215 children whose remains were found on the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, and Cowichan Tribes is holding an online prayer ceremony on Monday evening.
The mayors of North Cowichan and Duncan announced via Facebook on the weekend that their respective municipalities will be flying their flags at half-mast, and Cowichan Valley Regional District Chair Aaron Stone made a similar statement on Monday. North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring also noted that his request to light the World’s Largest Hockey Stick in orange will also be honoured.
“The discovery in Kamloops is horrific,” Siebring posted to the page ‘Al Siebring – North Cowichan Mayor’ on Friday, May 28. “My mind has been churning all day on this, trying to find the right words to express my feelings about this. Sadness, anger, disgust, and a whole bunch of other emotions all intermingling.”
Siebring linked to a post by Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart, saying that Stewart’s post “resonated deeply,” particularly an observation that “reparation isn’t possible; it is, however, necessary.”
Although the Cowichan Community Centre — the site of the World’s Largest Hockey Stick — is not a North Cowichan facility and is operated by the Cowichan Valley Regional District, Siebring also put in a request that the Stick be lit in orange for the week. The lights on the Stick were turned orange on Saturday night, and will remain that way for the rest of the week, with the exception of a previously granted request to turn them red on Sunday for World MS Day on May 30.
Duncan Mayor Michelle Staples posted on Sunday that she had contacted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office about lowering flags at federal buildings across the country, something that the federal government announced it would be doing. The flag at Duncan’s City Hall will be lowered for 215 hours, starting on Monday.
“I will wear orange to honour the young ones whose bodies were discovered and the families grieving and waiting to bring their children home,” Staples added.
The CVRD will also be lowering its flags for 215 hours, and Stone insisted that the legacy of residential schools must not be forgotten.
“My heart aches in solidarity with the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation, our First Nations here at home – Stz’uminus, Penelakut, Lyackson, Halalt, Cowichan, Malahat, Ditidaht, Pacheedaht, Ts’uubaa-asatx – and those across Canada,” Stone wrote. “It is incumbent on all of us to recognize and respond to these tragic discoveries. The pain is immeasurable and unfathomable.
“Closer to home, the terrible legacy of the Kuper Island Residential School is known, but often not talked about. The survivors and their families, and the families of those who never returned home continue to suffer the pain and trauma of the forced reservation and residential school system.”
Cowichan Valley School District Chair Candace Spilsbury spoke of how the 215 children known to have died in Kamloops is just part of the overall total across Canada.
“As the Board of Education for the Cowichan Valley School District, we know we still have a long way to go on our reconciliation journey,” she said. “This collective journey speaks to the truth of the residential school system as a mechanism of genocide against Indigenous peoples across Canada, and takes that knowledge and uses it as a force for change in our communities today”
Cowichan Tribes is holding a prayer ceremony online at 5 p.m. on Monday, May 31. The ceremony can be viewed on the Cowichan Tribes Facebook page.
The discovery of the bodies was confirmed Thursday, May 27 by the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation. The Kamloops Indian Residential School operated from the late 1800s until 1977 and the Tk’emlups te Secwépemc said there were as many as 500 children enrolled at the school at one time. The children’s remains were found by using ground penetrating radar.
National Indian Residential School Crisis Line is available 24 hours a day at 1-866-925-4419.