The interpretive signage related to St. Mary’s Residential School, located throughout Fraser River Heritage Park, is going to be removed.
Council has asked staff to work with local First Nations to replace the signs with information that is “more in keeping with the 2015 final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.”
The commission was part of a holistic and comprehensive response to the charges of abuse and other ill effects for First Nations children that resulted from the Indian residential school legacy. It was established in June of 2008, and was completed in December 2015.
The current signs were installed about eight years ago through a partnership with the Mission Heritage Association and the Mission Rotary Club.
According to the staff report to council, the “content of the signage referencing the residential school was vetted by representatives of the First Nations.” However, concerns have been recently expressed that the signage does not truly reflect the “pain and suffering experienced by many of the children who attended the school.”
Joseph Hislop, the acting principal of Aboriginal Education for the Mission School District contacted the district to voice his concerns. He also made a presentation to council which are centered on the portrayal of St. Mary’s, the residential school system and its long-term impact on First Nations families.
The staff report states, “The history and abuses suffered by many First Nation children is now much better understood.
“There is no longer the ability to suggest that the residential school system was simply trying to ‘teach the First Nations’ children the academic skills they would need for a quickly changing world,’” as it is written on one of the park signs.
Mission Mayor Randy Hawes said the new signs should reflect the reality of what happened.
“We are going to replace the signs.
“The presentation that was made at our council meeting was both informative and, I felt, extremely moving, and so did all of council. And it did pinpoint that there was, in past, wrongs committed and those should not be glossed over,” said Hawes.
There are 13 interpretive signs located at the park. Five of the signs, and one bronze plaque, specifically interprets the residential school history.
Staff have recommended that the initial removal of the signage be done in consultation with the local First Nations and the Rotary Club that provided the original funding.