Marking National Indigenous Peoples Day, coming up Monday, can be intensely personal, says the chief of the T’Sou-ke First Nation.
“Every day for us is Aboriginal Day,” Gordon Planes said. For many, it is about their healing journey.
And this year, the horror of the graves of 215 Indigenous children being found at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School is deeply felt, Planes said.
“You think about Canada’s relationship to First Nations on Aboriginal Day, and everyone kind of knows what the past is like, and it isn’t very good,” Planes said. “For us it is the family groups and the individuals, the elders, that have experienced the residential schools.
“That is a door that in most cases they do not want to open, the reason being it’s taken so long to close the door.”
While Planes supports those who have demonstrated in the aftermath of the Kamloops story coming out, the T’Sou-ke First Nation has not planned any organized events.
Some people might want to air issues and others might not, he said, noting that it is a sensitive matter. “We’re healing the way we want to heal.”
Planes said a lot of members will be having their own events Monday, and the nation would be doing the same if it weren’t for COVID-19.
“Every year we put our canoe in the water and have a nice community barbecue and sing songs and dance.”
Past years have also featured paddling to the Inner Harbour with other local First Nations, he said — something that’s not possible this year due to the pandemic.
Still, he said, there will likely be some acknowledgement of the day. “We’ll probably go out in one of our canoes on Monday and paddle around the basin harbour.”
The Sooke School District has prepared for National Indigenous People Day with a full slate of events, and has produced YouTube videos featuring Planes and other Indigenous leaders. The videos were produced by the district’s Indigenous Education Department, led by district principal Kathleen King.
In one video, Planes — a 1978 graduate of the district — said he experienced prejudice as an elementary student but has seen the school system improve over the years.
Sooke School Board chairman Ravi Parmar said Monday will see plenty of things happening in district schools, much of it emphasizing equity and reconciliation.
He noted that Indigenous students were told to sit in the back of district classrooms 40 or 50 years ago.
“To even know that that happened in the school district where I serve as chair … [it’s] quite an emotional feeling to think that even in our district we had discriminated against Indigenous people.”
Parmar stressed the importance of an ongoing program that has Indigenous elders visiting classrooms, either virtually or in person, to share their knowledge and talk about Indigenous culture.
He said that about 10 per cent of the district’s approximately 11,300 students are Indigenous, with the three predominant nations being T’Sou-ke, Pacheedaht and Scia’new.
Parmar said what happened in Kamloops has had a big effect on students.
“I know that a lot of students were certainly seeing the news and asking a lot of questions, and it gave the schools an opportunity to talk about our history and the work that we collectively as a society need to do to address reconciliation.”