Okanagan students, staff, and faculty witness historic national event in Vancouver
When Anthony Isaac boarded the bus taking him to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) national event in Vancouver, he knew it would be educational and inspiring. But he wasn’t quite prepared for the emotional aspect.
Isaac is an Aboriginal student advisor within the Aboriginal Programs and Services department at UBC’s Okanagan campus. The university sent 26 students, two staff, and three faculty members to Vancouver to participate in the TRC events. They joined thousands of people who took part in activities Wednesday, marking the TRC’s national event.
“The truth and reconciliation national event was beautiful and very powerful,” Isaac says. “Our time there was quite moving, especially hearing the survivor testimonies. The stories resonate with me on physical, emotional, and spiritual levels so it's hard to explain in words what hearing those stories meant to me.”
A packed agenda consisted of displays, vendors, information booths, and poignant events such as the lighting of the sacred fire, survivors’ walk, panel discussions, sharing circles, workshops on traditional and digital storytelling, and testimony from those who were placed in residential schools.
“Gatherings of this nature provide great opportunity for us to share, listen, and understand each other on our deeper level,” Isaac says. “As we progress on our collective healing journey it's important to understand the truth of residential schools and the impacts they continue to carry to this day.”
For more than 120 years, Indian Residential Schools operated under the Canadian government's policy of "aggressive assimilation” and more than 150,000 First Nations, Métis, and Inuit children were sent to mandatory government-funded, church-run boarding schools. Away from their parents, many suffered abuse and were severely punishment for practising native traditions.
Canada’s Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established in 2008 to open dialogue about the damage done to generations of children. The TRC event in Vancouver is one of several held across Canada this year.
Wednesday’s TRC event ended with Expressions of Reconciliation and a ceremony of reflections from honorary witnesses. Many spoke of their time in residential schools. Their stories, Isaac says, were humbling.
“It's always heart-wrenching to hear the experiences of residential school survivors and things they witnessed, yet it is inspiring to see their strength and resilience to persevere through those hardships. Our culture is here today because of our elders and we have a responsibility to continue our stories, teachings, ceremonies, and ways of living.”
UBC is committed to fostering a better awareness and understanding of the Indian Residential School system and its effects, Isaac says. While classes were cancelled on the Vancouver campus on Sept. 18, Okanagan campus students, staff, and faculty were encouraged to take part by travelling to the TRC activities. The Okanagan campus also hosted a series of events throughout the month of September, on and off campus, to coincide with the national event.
“It's important for us to give students the opportunity to experience this event, and to be a part of the ongoing reconciliation process. There is a lot of healing that still needs to happen,” Isaac says.