After hearing from Esk’etemc (Alkali Lake) Chief Fred Robbins, Williams Lake city council has agreed to help his community write a proposal to apply for federal funding.
The funding would help his community, along with non-natives, address the residential school experience, promote healing and reconciliation amongst youth and inter-generational survivors, and work to promote better understanding and create partnerships.
At the regular council meeting Tuesday Robbins explained the federal funds, available from Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, would go toward a cross cultural ceremony and a heritage day.
“As you all know some people out at Alkali know how to fiddle, how to play the bagpipes, how to play the flute, but I think a cross-cultural ceremony is vital to our relationship. All relationships should begin with a ceremony,” Robbins said.
The first day would involve the ceremony and the second day, Robbins proposed, would consist of bronzing the apology made to residential school survivors by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Robbins suggested the bronzed apology would eventually be installed at the former St. Joseph’s Mission site south of Williams Lake.
During his presentation, Robbins referred to the last paragraph of Harper’s apology and its recommendation that the residential school commission presents a unique opportunity to educate all Canadians on the residential school system.
It would be a positive step in forging a new relationship based on knowledge of shared histories that can lead to respect for each other and the desire to move forward strong families, strong communities and vibrant cultures and traditions will contribute to a stronger Canada for all, Robbins read from the apology document.
Robbins said he would like to work together with city council for a common goal to recommend survivors of the residential schools be recognized, adding he thinks the collaboration would go a long way toward building a relationship between his community and city council.
Coun. Ivan Bonnell thanked Robbins for coming to speak to council and said it’s important for everyone in the region to pay homage and recognition to the past history and build on that understanding to build relationships with native and non-native communities.
“I’m really looking forward to writing a new history between the people of this community and communities in this region of ours,” Bonnell said.
Agreeing, Mayor Kerry Cook added it’s important to recognize the history of the past and understand it, but it’s also important to chart out a new chapter.
“I think that’s what this particular project can really do for all of us,” Cook said.
A residential school survivor, Robbins said he was enrolled at St. Joseph’s Mission.
“My number was 85. No name, just a number. As for the priest, for the first three years I was there, I was 85. I was there until it closed in 1982 and I look forward to working with this group.”
In addition to supporting the proposal, council also heard a suggestion from Robbins that the Tourism Discovery Centre needs to include displays of First Nations history.
There is a lot of information out there, but there is so much that hasn’t been recognized, he said.
“We go to specific claims for a reason. Claims for land that was taken from First Nations people,” Robbins said, adding those are the types of things they bring to the table when they talk about land claims.
Coun. Laurie Walters said she was intrigued by Robbins’ suggestion for historical displays at the TDC, and suggested the newly formed heritage committee could help move such a project forward.
“I’m excited and I think it’s time,” Walters told Robbins.