As the rain poured down on Sept. 25, Wally Samuel, Tom Watts, and Geraldine Edgar-Tom, residential school survivors, raised the bright orange flag of reconciliation to half mast in front of the Port Alberni City Hall. This is one of many flag raising ceremonies happening this week in recognition of National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on Sept. 30.
“I’m really proud to be part of this,” said Samuel. “I'm proud that people are listening and believing us and willing to work together for [the] future of our community and our people.”
Brandi Lauder, elected chief councilor of Hupačasath First Nation, reflected on the impact of residential schools in her nation.
“One of our own members passed at that school,” said Lauder, speaking about Alberni Indian Residential School (AIRS), which was on the main reserve of their neighboring First Nation, Tseshaht. “Although we were able to bring him home at the time, it still hurts.”
“Many children died at that school,” added Lauder. “They were beaten, they were raped, they were tortured.”
“They had no parents to turn to and they weren't allowed to go home,” said Lauder. “That’s what we’re remembering.”
Though for years the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation Memorial Register noted the death of 29 students while at AIRS, in phase one of Tseshaht’s investigation they uncovered that there was a minimum of 67 children who had died while attending the institution.
“This will be a day for national truth about the past and not hiding it anymore, and reconciliation between all of us that were and are still a part of it,” said Todd Patola, Port Alberni city councillor, to a crowd of orange. “It honors the people, the individuals who didn’t come back from [the] schools, and it also honors those who survived and were affected by the schools.”
Throughout this week orange flags will rise in front of schools throughout School District 70, encompassing Port Alberni, Bamfield, Tofino, and Ucluelet.
“I keep telling people the world is changing,” said Watts. “Because this wouldn't have happened 20 years ago.”
On Sept. 30, National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, orange will flood the streets of Port Alberni starting at the Barclay Hotel at 10 a.m., where art from the survivors can be viewed. The walk will begin at 11 a.m. and end at Maht Maht’s, the former site of AIRS, where a celebration will be held to recognize the 50th anniversary of the school’s closure.
“It isn’t just governments, it isn’t just school districts, it’s actually the citizens in our communities that have a responsibility as well, not just to educate themselves about what happened but to change your attitudes moving forward,” said Watts.