‘Strength from Within’ is a sculpture by artist Connie Watts that stands next to the Tseshaht Longhouse, on the site of the former Alberni Indian Residential School (AIRS). It commemorates survivors and those who did not make it home. ELENA RARDON PHOTO

Tseshaht First Nation to hold healing event for former AIRS students

Alberni Indian Residential School closed 46 years ago, but painful memories still linger

The Tseshaht First Nation is planning a healing event Sept. 27–28 at Maht Mahs Gymnasium and the Tseshaht Longhouse for the “lost souls” who attended residential school in Port Alberni.

Forty-six years after the Alberni Indian Residential School (AIRS) closed, its presence still haunts people. The Tseshaht have invited people from 203 First Nations in B.C. to attend the healing event “for all Kuu-us people in British Columbia who haven’t found their way to peace.”

The Tseshaht First Nation reserve outside of Port Alberni is the former location of AIRS, run by the Presbyterian-United Church from 1895-1973.

The effects of the school continue to cast painful memories for those who attended.

READ: Tseshaht First Nation to recognize closure of AIRS

RELATED: Paintings taken from Alberni Indian Residential School remain a mystery

“As a nation we are looking to provide opportunities for not only ourselves but all those children who attended from nations across B.C., to heal from this terrible stain on our past,” said a Tseshaht First Nation spokesperson.

Each nation attending the healing will be invited to bring regalia, drums, shawls, songs, pictures and traditional staples to feed the spirits.

The two-day event will include a commemoration of those lives lost at the former school grounds, as well as a cleansing of the grounds “in order to heal, start a healing journey and to find closure,” the spokesperson said. Once a traditional brushing, or Yuxshitl has been completed, survivors in attendance will be given the opportunity to speak their truth to those present.

“This practice will be emotional for everyone in attendance and we plan to have our Nuu-chah-nulth Quu-asa team in attendance for cultural support and brushings, along with other supportive organizations.”

The two-day event will conclude with a traditional Tseshaht feast to respect memories and celebrate those who are still here, she added.

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