May 22 was an overcast, dreary day in most places, except at Eliza Archie Memorial School (EAMS) on the Canim Lake Reserve.
Almost 300 students and teachers gathered on the playing field behind the school for a Cultural Day that was packed with traditional First Nations activities.
The students were from Horse Lake, Mile 108, Buffalo Creek, 100 Mile House, Forest Grove and Lac la Hache elementary schools, and their hosts were the EAMS students.
They were welcomed by Michelle Archie, Chief Mike Archie and Councillors Eddie Dixon and Greg Archie.
Cultural Day at the school was part of the Indian Residential School Heritage Days held by the Canim Lake Band.
It was an opportunity to tell the public and young people, in particular, the story of residential schools and the effect the schools had on the children who attended them, as well as on their families.
St. Joseph’s Indian Residential School near Williams Lake opened in 1891 and closed in 1981. It was known as the Mission School.
The government had decided residential schools would facilitate the assimilation of First Nations children into the white culture. Some 159 children from the Canim Lake Band, from the ages of four to 16, attended either that school or a residential school in Kamloops.
Attendance was arbitrary. Refusal to turn over the children to authorities would result in arrest for the parents.
Today, there are 59 former residential school students in the Canim Lake Band, many of whom are elders. Their stories are being compiled in a book that will provide a lasting record of what they experienced at the schools.
A common thread through their stories is the devastating loneliness and isolation they felt from their families and even siblings who were also at the schools. More than 1,000 unique pictures have been collected for the book.
Residential School co-ordinator Lyndsay Dixon, a third generation residential school survivor, described the Heritage Days Opening Ceremonies held on May 21.
“I thought the little dancers were beautiful because at residential school, we weren’t allowed to wear traditional clothes or to dance. It is important to showcase the fact that our young people are learning to dance, to drum, to sing in our traditional ways.
“Throughout this whole process of having people speak about their experiences, it has been very difficult for our elders. They were taught not to talk.
“However, one of them who has never spoken of his experiences did tell his story at the opening ceremonies.”
Lyndsay told the students about daily life at the Mission School.
Storyteller William Archie talked about his childhood, the old hunting trails he travelled with relatives, the lakes and creeks named after them, and the history of the church on the reserve.
The students played Lahal, a stick game, and double ball. They learned about traditional medicines and viewed cultural displays during a break for an excellent Indian taco and bannock lunch.
Closing ceremonies were conducted by Marcella McGrath and included drummers and dancers performing a friendship dance.