Eleven-foot-tall memorial house post carvings now tower over the former sites of St. Mary’s Residential School in Mission, and Chilliwack’s Coqualeetza Residential School.
Stó:lō leaders unveiled the two post carvings from orange coverings at private ceremonies on Sept. 30, Canada’s First National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
“I cannot claim to speak on behalf of those directly impacted as it is not my place, but I can help support the important work of ceremony with other leadership,” said Chief David Jimmie of the Squiala First Nation, president of the Stó:lō Nation Chiefs Council (SNCC).
“These ceremonies acknowledge the harsh reality of Canadian history but more importantly, let the impacted individuals and families know that we are here to support them in any way on their healing journey.”
The poles were carved from cedar donated by the Ts’elxwéyeqw Tribe and both feature a woman wearing a red dress, two children and an orange heart. On the St. Mary’s House Post, the figures wear residential school uniforms, while on the Coqualeetza House Post, they wear traditional clothing and blankets.
They were created by local carver and Yakweakwioose First Nation Chief Terry Horne, who described the work as the outcome of “blood, sweat and tears.”
The ceremonies were attended by SNCC leaders, the Stó:lō Tribal Council (STC), community members from the region including residential school survivors, local Fraser Valley MPs, MLAs, mayors and councillors, and RCMP members.
The identification of unmarked graves at residential school sites across the country have both served as a grievous reminder for Indigenous communities, and a shocking revelation for non-Indigenous Canadians.
In 2021, nearly 1,400 suspected graves were identified using ground-penetrating radar at five former residential schools.
Stó:lō leadership, inlcuding Jimmie and Grand Chief of Sq’éwlets First Nation Clarence Pennier, a member of the STC, formed a multi-First Nation working committee for the ceremonies in honour of those who did not come home, and survivors.
“It is appropriate for the government to recognize the thousands of children that were forced to attend the schools. There are thousands that need to be recognized as the ones that did not make it home,” said Pennier, who attended St. Mary’s and Kamloops schools.
“All Canadians need to understand that the government policies were put in place ‘to take the Indian out of the child.’ We have survived and our children and grandchildren will continue to learn our language, practice our culture and traditions and then pass it on to their children and grandchildren.”
Mayors Paul Horn of Mission, Henry Braun of Abbotsford, Ken Popove of Chilliwack, were called to remark on the event’s significance.
The posts are now available for viewing by the general public, who are welcomed to access Pekw’Xe:yles (St. Mary’s) and Coqualeetza grounds to pay respect, and learn more about the history.
I was honoured + humbled to be called by Stó:lō leadership and community members as a witness and to address those assembled at the the Pekw’Xeyles Ceremony (Residential School Memorial Totem Pole Raising Ceremonies) at the St. Mary’s site in #MissionBC. 1/2 pic.twitter.com/om1yHrimQX
— Henry Braun (@MayorHenryBraun) October 1, 2021