March in honour of residential-school children planned for Pat Bay Highway on Monday

A small group of people, including residential school survivors and children of survivors, is planning to close the Patricia Bay Highway at Mount Newton Cross Road for an hour Monday morning in honour of children who never made it home from residential schools.

The group plans to march from the band office of the Tsawout First Nation to the highway intersection, where they will gather and drum, blocking the road in both directions from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. to draw attention to the atrocities of residential schools and other harms to Indigenous people in Canada.

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The Tsawout First Nation was not involved in organizing the march.

The rally comes on the last day of the August long weekend, one of the busiest weekends of the year for B.C. Ferries.

Central Saanich Police said they are aware of the rally and have planned detours where flaggers will be present to direct drivers. Northbound drivers will be directed to exit the highway at Island View Road. Southbound drivers can leave at Amity Drive, while truck drivers can leave at McTavish Road.

Chief Const. Ian Lawson is suggesting that anyone travelling on that day adjust their plans if possible to avoid the area during the march.

Officers plan to let the demonstration take place for the scheduled hour and will be present to ensure the safety of all involved, he said.

“We want to allow demonstrations, even if sometimes it’s a disruption of a public highway,” he said.

In February of 2020, dozens of people blocked the Pat Bay Highway in the same spot for three hours as a show of support for five Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who opposed the Coastal GasLink pipeline in northern B.C.

Tracy Underwood, a W̱SÁNEĆ matriarch who is planning Monday’s event, said she understands the short closure may frustrate long-weekend travellers, but “it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the genocide that was attempted on our people, and it’s to show that we’re still here. Those children mattered. We matter and we’re still here.”

The march is partly a protest against B.C. Day, because, like the federal government, the province has harmed Indigenous people, Underwood said.

It’s also planned to coincide with an event in Chemainus organized by the Penelakut Tribe to honour children who died at residential schools.

The First Nation recently announced the discovery of what is believed to be about 160 undocumented and unmarked graves on the grounds of the former Kuper Island Industrial School.

Underwood said her father attended both the Kuper Island school and the Kamloops Indian Residential School, where a ground-penetrating radar specialist has identified about 200 potential burial sites in a discovery that heightened awareness nationwide of the physical, emotional and sexual abuse children suffered at the government-funded schools.

“He never talked about it, and why would he, to his children. And I think that whatever happened eventually caused him to drink himself to death,” she said.

Her father died at the age of 48, a month before Underwood turned 16. She said the discovery of more potential burial sites near former schools has hit her hard.

“I always think if my dad didn’t come home, I wouldn’t be here. And lots of us are in that state, where if our parents didn’t survive that, the genocide would have been complete,” she said.

Tsawout Chief Harvey Underwood said he has concerns about safety and potential backlash as a result of the march blocking the highway, but he understands the need for people to heal by making their voices heard. Underwood’s story is one of many, he said.

“That’s the reason why you see these happening across B.C. and likely Canada, because the land itself is crying out for justice, justice, justice,” he said.

regan-elliott@timescolonist.com

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