Koda Goodwill, left, his brothers Roam and Todd (not pictured) sit on the ground by drummers from Tseshaht and Hupacasath First Nations at Victoria Quay on Thursday, July 1, 2021. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News) The emotions of the day were overwhelming for some of the residential school survivors who attended a gathering at Victoria Quay on July 1, 2021. Members of the Tseshaht and Hupacasath First Nations, as well as those from visiting nations, lifted up survivors in song and drumming. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News) Huu-ay-aht First Nations Chief Councillor Robert Dennis Sr. thanks the Tseshaht and Hupacasath nations for bringing together hundreds of people to honour children lost to residential school. Dennis talked about his experience as a 12-year survivor of residential school. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News) Thursday’s gathering at Victoria Quay was punctuated with singing, drumming and dancing, which some of the youth members jumped into with enthusiasm. (July 1, 2021) (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News) Hupacasath First Nation elected Chief Councillor Brandy Lauder, right, listens to a speaker at a gathering at Victoria Quay on July 1, 2021. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News) The sun began to peek out from behind clouds as residential school survivors gathered in a circle so others could honour them. The sun could still be seen filtering through the clouds as the July 1, 2021 gathering wound down. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News) The lifting of COVID-19 public health restrictions in B.C. meant there were people hugging with emotion at the Victoria Quay gathering to honour residential school survivors on July 1, 2021. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News) Tseshaht First Nation elected Chief Councillor Wahmeesh Ken Watts thanks people for gathering at Victoria Quay on July 1, 2021 to honour the lost children whose remains are being discovered at the sites of former residential schools across the country. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News) Generations of First Nations members gathered to say “we are still here” and to lift up residential school survivors at a July 1, 2021 event at Victoria Quay in Port Alberni. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News) Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council president Kekinusuqs Judith Sayers thanked Indigenous and non-Indigenous people gathered at Victoria Quay for gathering to be a collective voice for the children who never made it home from residential school. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News) Drummers and singers from all over were invited to join in during a portion of a July 1, 2021 gathering at Victoria Quay. Tseshaht and Hupacasath First Nations planned the event to honour residential school survivors and those who never returned from the schools. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News) Antonia Peters and her daughter Kallie prepare to do some drumming during a gathering at Victoria Quay on July 1, 2021. The gathering was organized jointly by the Tseshaht and Hupacasath First Nations. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News) Indigenous relatives were encouraged to wear orange shirts and bring their drums and regalia to a gathering on the Somass River waterfront, July 1, 2021 in Port Alberni. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News) Hundreds of people, many of them wearing orange shirts, gather at Victoria Quay along the Somass River to honour children lost to residential schools as well as school survivors, July 1, 2021 in Port Alberni. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News) Drummers and singers from both Tseshaht and Hupacasath First Nations performed a number of times during a gathering July 1, 2021 at Victoria Quay in Port Alberni to honour children lost to residential school as well as survivors. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News) As the setting sun peeks out from behind clouds, survivors of residential school were asked to gather in a circle during a gathering at Victoria Quay. They were surrounded by singers and drummers to help lift them up spiritually. (July 1, 2021) (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
Hundreds of people wearing orange shirts gathered at Victoria Quay on July 1, not to celebrate Canada Day but to remember Indigenous children lost to residential schools.
The event was planned jointly by the Tseshaht and Hupacasath First Nations, whose unceded territories overlap along the Somass River in the Alberni Valley. The event was to honour the lost children and also lift up residential school survivors, Tseshaht Chief Councillor Wahmeesh Ken Watts said.
People travelled from other nations around Vancouver Island to attend, and non-Indigenous people attended as well. Support workers with the Nuu-chah-nulth Quu’asa program walked among the crowd to assist people who may have been overwhelmed by the stories and emotions of the evening.
The MC, Martin Watts, said the circumstances that brought people together (the discoveries of at least 1,505 unmarked gravesites at a handful of residential schools across western Canada so far) were sad, but the show of support was encouraging. “By the looks of the orange shirts here today, we are stronger,” he said.
Singers and drummers from both the Tseshaht and Hupacasath performed a number of times, calling in others who brought their drums to join in. A small group of youth spread puqtleetim, or eagle down, blessing the space.
A number of people stood up and spoke. Hupacasath Chief Councillor Brandy Lauder said she was proud of all the people who came out to honour the lost children. Tseshaht Chief Ken Watts asked people to pause for a moment of silence for the people from Lytton area who lost everything in a wildfire that destroyed 90 percent of the town earlier in the week.
He also asked people to lift up others and give them room to heal.
“It wasn’t too long ago when our children weren’t allowed to sing like we did today,” he said. He thanked residential school survivors for their sacrifices in trying to keep their language and culture despite widespread efforts by those who ran the schools to beat it out of them.
“Without you (survivors), we wouldn’t be able to sing these songs today.”
Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council president Kekinusuqs Judith Sayers thanked the crowd for coming out “to be the voice of those children that didn’t have proper burials, those children that were cast aside.
“It’s the children bringing us together. It’s up to us…to find justice for them.”
On a day when there were as many orange shirts as Canadian flags waving from yards, Courtenay-Alberni NDP MP Gord Johns said the country was pausing, and he was grateful. True reconciliation “requires listening, because we have to get it right,” he said.
Thursday’s gathering included a moment of silence to remember the hundreds of children lost to residential schools. Survivors were then asked to identify themselves and come forward in a circle. In an emotional moment that brought tears to many, the survivors were surrounded by singers, drummers and dancers who performed to “lift them up.”
At that moment, the sun broke low through some clouds and shone on the heads of survivors.
The event concluded with singers and drummers encouraging children in the crowd to come and dance, which they did.
As the crowd began to disperse, a lone eagle’s cry could be heard from the treetops across the Somass River.
The B.C. society of Indian Residential School Survivors is offering toll-free telephone support for survivors at 1-800-721-0066.
Alberni ValleyFirst NationsTruth and Reconciliation Commission