A person wearing orange writes a message in chalk near the donations of teddy bears that reads "Rosanna Louise Antoine 1953.
Those who attended the vigil were encouraged to leave their thoughts in chalk near the pile of toys and teddy bears that were donated. Photo by Julie Chadwick/The Discourse
Nanaimo Vancouver Island

Nanaimo This Week: All together we remember our children

‘Celebrate holding and embracing our children again,’ said Snuneymuxw First Nation councillor Tzuq'nustun (Paul) Wyse-Seward at a vigil on May 30.
Julie Chadwick June 3, 2021

Welcome to Nanaimo This Week, your weekly local newsletter


This newsletter shares stories about residential schools that may be triggering. Support is available for survivors of all ages. The KUU-US Crisis Line Society offers 24-7 support at 250-723-4050 for adults, 250-723-2040 for youth, or toll-free at 1-800-588-8717.

The last couple of weeks have been rough for many of our friends and family and loved ones. The discovery of the remains of 215 children in an unmarked grave on the site of the Kamloops Indian Residential School on Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation territory over the May long weekend has hit hard.

In response, a vigil took place on Sunday on the unceded territory of the Snuneymuxw First Nation in Maffeo Sutton Park, organized by Snuneymuxw member Tsatassaya (Tracey) White and Anna McKenzie, who is the mother and stepmother of three Snuneymux’w children, an ally to the Snuneymuxw First Nation and a reporter for IndigiNews. 

Donations of flowers, teddy bears and toys poured in from all over Vancouver Island and from as far away as New York City, as well as more than $4,000 in financial donations for Nanaimo-based Kw’umut Lelum Child & Family Services. Julia and Jim Kipp brought 215 daisies from their garden and Joan Underwood brought 215 roses that participants offered to the ocean after the event.

 Tsatassaya (Tracey) White stands next to Anna McKenzie holding her child with two small children at her side in front of a crowd gathering to commemorate children lost to residential schools.
“We felt that the money should go to children in care for their programming, because they’re the ones who have felt the brunt of why we’re all here today the hardest,” said Tsatassaya (Tracey) White, who organized the event with Anna McKenzie (left) Photo by Julie Chadwick/The Discourse

“When I talked to my Aunty Gina Grant from Musqueam yesterday she, along with my mother Sa-layweah—they attended the Port Alberni Indian residential school—and Aunty Gina said, ‘We didn’t have toys at Residential School, and teddy bears are important to children.’ I thought, you know, these children were separated from their families, their territories, their communities, and they did not even have a toy to comfort them,” said Tsatassaya on Sunday, when she explained the idea behind the event.

“So the symbolism of sharing today—we have had children, little tiny muna bringing toys and money to share—has just been overwhelmingly beautiful. It’s beautiful. And this is what the medicine is, us gathering today together to hear the words of all of our brothers and sisters here. This is what healing is about. This is what we do. This is what we need to strive for, to build a better future.”

Snuneymuxw drummers and dancers gather to sing in black beaded costumes.
Tzuq’nustun (Paul) Wyse-Seward sings with the smallest member of the Snuneymuxw Dance Group. Photo by Julie Chadwick/The Discourse

The vigil was by turns emotional and uplifting, and featured a variety of speakers including Chief Mike Wyse, Snuneymuxw First Nation councillor Tzuq’nustun (Paul) Wyse-Seward, Nuu-chah-nulth Elder Greg Charleson of Hesquiaht First Nation, and Nanaimo-Ladysmith MP Paul Manly, as well as songs, prayers, dance and stories.

In calling the event ‘Ilhe hi’kw’asum’ ‘u kwuthu s’aa’lhuh stu’ehwulh (All Together We Remember Our Children) Tsatassaya said they were careful to use the word “our” because of the children found in Kamloops, some were also likely from Vancouver Island communities.

“The residential school system made it clear that they didn’t just separate children from their families, but they separated them from their territories, and they scattered them and sent them to residential schools everywhere,” she explained on Sunday.

A message reads "As a grandmother I am heartbroken" in chalk beside donations of teddy bears for children lost to residential schools.
“As a grandmother I am heartbroken,” reads a message in chalk. Photo by Julie Chadwick/The Discourse

“I can’t raise my hands high enough, looking at everybody that’s here,” said Tzuq’nustun. “When I came home and I read about these children it brought back a lot of emotion for me, thinking of my grandfather. My grandfather telling the stories, in our language, of what happened to him when he went to residential school. The things that he’s seen. One thing in particular, seeing his sister, younger sister, was pushed out of a window, a two-story window, by two nuns and a priest. They just grabbed her, brought her out, buried her. He never talked too much about it but the few stories that he had, that he shared, of his pain. And his parents didn’t even know that she left. His parents didn’t even know that they buried her. That’s one thing I thought of, when I read that.”

Pausing to sing a couple of prayer songs with the Snuneymuxw Dance Group, Tzuq’nustun then talked about how when he woke up on Sunday morning he thought it was going to be a beautiful day, just like the last few days had been.

“Seen the rain come down and thought instantly—all those that have just been found and all of those others that aren’t even found, or talked about—they’re crying. They’re crying with joy because they’re coming home. It’s through our songs and our prayers that we bring them home,” he said. “This next song, I’m going to say, it’s going to bring the sunshine and we’re going to celebrate. Celebrate holding and embracing our children again.”

How to support

For those that are settlers on this land grappling with how to respond in the wake of last week’s discovery, Anna McKenzie of IndigiNews and Jacqueline Ronson of The Discourse Cowichan compiled a list of actions you can take right now to support your Indigenous friends, neighbours and loved ones in healing. Whether it’s listening, donating money or demanding action from our elected leaders and the church, there’s so much you can do.

Non-Indigenous people, here are 7 ways to support Indigenous people grieving in the wake of the news about the 215 children at KIRS.
Photo by Anna McKenzie

Learn:

Support:

Act:

  • You can reach out to your elected leaders and ask that they uphold the TRC’s 94 Calls to Action, especially those that relate to missing children and unmarked burials. Contact Nanaimo-Ladysmith MP Paul Manly here. Nanaimo MLA Sheila Malcolmson here. Nanaimo-North Cowichan MLA Doug Routley here.
  • You can ask that the Roman Catholic Church take responsibility for their actions by contacting the chancery of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Victoria.

Community shout-out

Roberta Price smiles in a cedar headband and formal dress to celebrate her honorary doctorate from UBC.
Matriarch Roberta Price of Snuneymuxw and Cowichan Nations is the recipient of an honorary doctorate from the University of British Columbia for dedicating more than 30 years to decolonizing healthcare by creating cultural safety and equity for Indigenous peoples in the healthcare system. You can read about her work supporting the healing of Indigenous men who are incarcerated in the Tyee. Photo via UBC

In other news

👉 The City of Nanaimo has moved to expropriate the site of the old Jean Burns building, which was the location of a devastating fire in 2016 and has sat empty ever since. According to the Nanaimo News Bulletin, Bill Corsan, the city’s director of community development said that they will now work with owner Crankshaw Holdings to figure out a purchase price. They also plan to acquire two other properties on the same block. A possible plan for the area includes creating a transit exchange site.

Crankshaw Holdings have responded to the announcement via their Twitter account, stating that they were first made aware that the city wanted to buy via a realtor, and when the city eventually asked if the property was for sale, Crankshaw said no, as the property’s value had not been established.

“This value won’t be known until we have had a chance to rezone the property. The city is aware of our intentions,” states the Twitter account. “We also feel that by posting notices at our property and in the media will create a backlash against our company. It is unfortunate that the city won’t negotiate.”

A letter from the city is posted to a metal fence at the Jean Burns Building site.
The City of Nanaimo’s expropriation notice attached to the fence surrounding the Jean Burns site. Photo submitted by Leif Miltenberger

👉 Construction started on the supportive housing complex at 702 Nicol Street on Tuesday, with modular units being moved onto the site via crane. According to BC Housing, which owns the site, the four-storey project features 52 homes that will provide long-term housing for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness, as well as 14 bridge-to-housing homes for women in need. The new building will be operated by Island Crisis Care Society.

Letters

Hey Julie,

Thanks for another refreshing mug full of Discourse. As a retired journalist my fading admiration for the RCMP was given a push by your description of their handling of the Fairy Creek situation. The Mounties are not yet the Politsiya Rossii of Canada but that has more to do with our democracy than their mindset. Strong? Yes, but true.

My first inkling that all was not well behind that red serge was discovering in 1972 the RCMP had stolen 14 cases of dynamite from a construction site. There was a plan to use the dynamite to frame the FLQ [Front de libération du Québec], as this was just two years after the October Crisis.

I was in radio in Kitimat at the time… anyway, I digress… the main thing is, plus ça change.

Another thanks for the further outing of Mosaic and their Machiavellian plan to cut labour costs and get the BC government to pay for it in the name of strong exports. It’s heartening to see companies like Teal-Jones really do exist.

Keep up the very fine work.

Best,

John Harris


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