Margaret Eaton, Gord Wellar and Archie Little.
Port Alberni Mayor Ken McRae could barely contain his emotions as he brought greetings from the city to the participants of the Residential School Survivors Conference held Oct. 25 and 26 at Maht Mahs gym.
His voice shook as he explained that residential school took a terrible toll on First Nations people across the country, and his wife Dolly was no exception.
“Not a day goes by that she isn’t affected by it,” he said. He hoped that one day soon that the community could turn the corner on the sad legacy of the school system and the abuses that happened in it.
During the morning of the first day of the conference, Assembly of First Nations representative Ken Young was blanketed by the organizers for having traveled to the event and for his continued support of the Nuu-chah-nulth survivors. He then went on to make a presentation about the history of the residential school settlement claim, and heard from participants what they hope will happen with any monies not claimed by survivors, and through the truth and reconciliation phase of the agreement. The tales of betrayal and abuse went through the day, as school survivors expressed their feelings to him.
On Day two oconference, emcee Darlene Watts welcomed everyone, and also acknowledged the ha’wiih who were present. She thanked all those who had set up information booths and made a special acknowledgement to lawyer Scott Hall for his financial contribution to sponsor haircuts and other health activities.
The first item of business on the agenda was for Charlie Thompson to do a presentation. Thompson thanked all of the organizers for putting this conference on. He then spoke about a film to be shown at the David Lamb Theatre in Victoria on Nov. 8 at 7 p.m. called “Unrepentant.”
He said he would be there to protest the showing of the video and to hand out printed material to let survivors know that Kevin Annett, the film’s creator, in Thompson’s estimation, does not speak for survivors.
Many people spoke and supported Thompson and thanked him for his presentation. Archie Little and Margaret Eaton were then called forward to make a presentation. Little and Eaton were volunteer organizers. Eaton called forward a special guest, the RCMP’s Gord Wellar.
“On behalf of the organizing committee we would like to acknowledge you for being here today as it is greatly appreciated by all of our committee members,” said Eaton. Wellar was then presented with a Native Art print.
“I am deeply honored and also humbled by this beautiful gift,” said Wellar. He then made a statement that the local RCMP here in Port Alberni now have four members on its First Nations Policing Unit at their detachment. Wellar also appreciated the education he received about First Nations people, though he said there is not enough and more educational training is needed.
Dolly Watts- McRae asked to say a few words during the break. She mentioned that she is a member of the Chamber of Commerce. Watts – McRae then asked the survivors for pictures that she wanted to assist in organizing and that she would like to see these pictures go across the country.
Elder Agnes Lucas from Hesquiaht then made a very special presentation to a few of the volunteer organizers. Lucas appreciated all of the efforts of the committee and made a presentation of gifts for the organizers to raffle off to make some money. Archie Little, Kelly Sport and Bruce Lucas were presented with the gifts.
Lunch was served, and during lunch there were a few speeches of thanks and acknowledgement of all those that assisted in the planning and organizing of the conference.
Richard Lucas thanked everyone for being at the conference. Archie Little then acknowledged Ben Clappis for not only being on the committee, but also announced that it was Clappis’ fiftieth birthday. Everyone joined in and sang happy birthday.
“As a junior committee member, I want to publicly thank Robert Dennis for supporting the committee and also appointing me to the committee. I really appreciated being involved, and what made this conference work is all of you people – the survivors,” said Clappis.
Little made a few remarks and acknowledged the Tyee Ha’wiih Alban Michael and his family members from Nuchatlaht for being at the conference. He then thanked Tim Paul for the use of the logo for the conference. Little then thanked Assembly of First Nations (AFN) member Ken Young for attending the conference.
Young spoke about the truth and reconciliation commission saying the AFN insisted that this be put in place. The commission will consist of aboriginal people with one of our own people being appointed the chairperson of the commission.
Late next month Young said that the commission should be in place and that it is expected that the probable start for the commission will be in the New Year. The commission is expected to travel to communities across Canada. Once the commission completes its travels, a report will be provided on its findings.
Young also mentioned that there would be regional conferences on residential schools, and that there would be a major national conference with thousands expected to attend. Details need to be worked out yet, and the location of this conference has to be determined.
As the conference was soon coming to a close, Delores Seitcher (nee Keitlah) asked all of the Tla-o-qui-aht members to stand with her. She acknowledged one of the volunteer organizers, Norah Martin, on behalf of the Ha’wiih, TFN council members and the community members for all of Martin’s hard work. She said that Martin is a great example of commitment, dedication and hard work, and leads by example.
Prior to the conclusion of the conference there was presentations heard from an elders panel, Agnes Martin and Mamie Charleson, and an intergenerational impacts panel Simon Tom, Elmer Frank and Jay Millar.
The two day conference concluded with the many stories shared. Although there may have been heavy hearts, there was also a feeling of unity and strength amongst the survivors.
By Jack F. Little
with files from Debora Steel