Orange Shirt day is one of the most visible aspects of Truth and Reconciliation Day, Sept. 30, but that’s not all that is going on.
Truth and Reconciliation Day was sparked by the discovery of previously unknown graves of children at the Kamloops Residential School, and later at other residential school sites across the country.
“And so with respect to that, this event is being held. We’re calling it Healing our Hearts,” said John Ketlo, organizer of the Nak’azdli Whut’en event.
The concept, explained Ketlo, is hopefully to focus more on the aspect of healing and getting to a place where survivors of residential schools can be survivors and start living again.
“Although that’s going to be a long road to walk,” said Ketlo. “When they were children, it was the brainwashing. Every time they spoke their native language, they would be punished, really horrendous ways. And now they’re old folks, and they still don’t want to speak their language because they’re scared to.”
Ketlo hopes Truth and Reconciliation day can bring communities together to pay respect to the memory of the survivors, and those that never made it home.
“To look for a healing scenario, and to have some reconciliation by focusing on the truth to try to set these folks free as much as possible,” said Ketlo, noting that the discovery of the graves at Kamloops and other residential schools tore open old wounds. The event is to help heal those wounds, but there is another aspect to facing the truth.
“To give back their voice. So they can speak their language, give them back their power, reconnect them with their roots, that was stolen from them, and their innocence that they will never get back. Also to pay respect to the dead children that never made it home,” said Ketlo.
As a son of a survivor, Ketlo admits he doesn’t speak his language very well and talks about the struggle to bring that and other aspects of First Nations culture back.
“That’s something that was stolen from me. Then dealing with the echoes of alcoholism and violence,” said Ketlo. “If you go and you subject these kids to all these things, when they grow up, they’re still angry, and then they got all these problems that are dysfunctional, and so we’re still healing the rift from that.
“This event is meant to build and create awareness. They wear the orange shirt that says Every Child Matters. And then we’re going to have we’re going to hear from speakers that were actual residential school survivors. They’re going to come talk for 15 minutes apiece and tell their story.”
There will also be traditional clan singers and dancers, along with other events showcasing their culture.
“Just creating that awareness so that people can remember to tell the story, educate themselves,” said Ketlo. “Everybody wants to feel understood, right? It makes it easier to get along. And if you understand somebody’s world, then you will probably be their friend.”