This article contains mention of residential schools and physical abuse.
On Friday, September 30, community members gathered at UBC the second annual Intergenerational March to commemorate National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and show support for residential school and intergenerational survivors.
The Intergenerational March, organized by the Faculty of Land and Food Systems (LFS) and Faculty of Applied Science, began at the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre. There, Musqueam Elder Doris Fox welcomed participants to the traditional, unceded and ancestral territory of the Musqueam people.
“I want you to know how good it makes my heart feel to see all these orange shirts. It means a lot to a lot of us,” she said.
Fox then invited those present, including many families, to take a moment to imagine the heartbreak First Nations parents suffered when their children were taken to school.
“Imagine how you would feel if it was your niece or nephew, your child, your granddaughters, your grandchildren. How would that feel?”
Following Fox’s words, the Coast Salish performance group, Tsatsu Stalqayu (Coastal Wolf Pack), danced and sang several songs, including a warrior song dedicated to the survivors of residential schools.
The march then commenced along Main Mall. Informational placards were placed along the way to educate participants on the significance of the day. Groups of orange-clad attendees stopped to reflect and take in each sign.
“When I was young, people didn’t really know about residential schools that weren’t from the Indigenous community,” said UBC staff member Joe Stevens. “It’s nice to see just so many orange t-shirts … people putting in time and effort to educate themselves.”
The march concluded at the Reconciliation Pole, where Snuneymuxw First Nation Elder John Jones shared his harrowing personal experience at the Alberni Residential School, and the physical, verbal and sexual abuse he suffered there as a child.
Jones also spoke about how he lost the ability to speak his language from the residential school system.
“I promised myself back then as a child, at seven years old, that I’m not going to learn any more of my traditional language,” he said. “Every time I try and think about trying to speak my language, memories of my friend getting beat up come back up.”
“I’m a husband, I’m a father, I’m a grandfather, and just recently, my great-granddaughter is going to be two this year. That’s the success in my life. That’s my pride," he said at the end of his speech. “One of the things that the government and the church tried to do is destroy our human values … And they didn’t succeed.”
This was the second year Applied Sciences and LFS hosted a march for National Day of Truth and Reconciliation – formerly known as Orange Shirt Day.
“Every day we have to be brave or feel like survivors but today we can let our guard down,” said march attendee and first-year medical student Denna Flett.
“I think [National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is] about getting together, seeing the community that you have both with other Indigenous people in the region but also with those who are allies and really just coming here to … support one another.”
Organizers provided support to participants, including on-site counselors and support dogs from the Pacific Assistance Dog Society (PADS), in recognition that National Day for Truth and Reconciliation can be distressing.
PADS communication manager Tara Doherty noted, “We know that this is a hard day for some folks, and these guys being here just brings a little bit of joy.”