Aboriginal Students Lost to the Depredations of Sechelt IRS Commemorated


St. John’s Sunshine Coast United Church and St. Hilda’s By the Sea Anglican Church in Sechelt, B.C., teamed up to immerse themselves in the history and legacy of the Indian Residential School in their community.

>Nancy and John Denham, Project of Heart participants at the First National Event in Winnipeg (June 2010) http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/story/2010/06/21/mb-truth-reconciliation-event-wrap-winnipeg.html got the ball rolling by involving team leaders Clarence Li (rector of St. Hilda’s), Jacqueline Samson (deacon at St. John’s), and Janice Young (minister at St. John’s). Together they were able to harness the excitement and energy of their congregants that would lead them down the “right relations” path. A huge “shout out” to each of them! 

Project of Heart would like to especially thank the leaders of the Sechelt and Lytton Indian Bands and the Elders and IRS survivors in these communities for their willingness to educate those attending St. Hilda and St.John’s. Due to their efforts, some congregants were not only able to learn about their role in the legacy of colonialism but also to take advantage of opportunities to build trusting and caring relationships through shared community workshops on cultural awareness, candid discussion on contemporary issues, and of course, plenty of celebration!
For a glimpse into a journey started in 2011, please read John’s account of the Sechelt Project of Heart below:

Project of Heart: St John’s and St Hilda’s Sechelt 2011, 2012

My wife Nancy and I were traveling by car from Ontario to BC for the month of June 2010. It was an unexpected surprise for us to arrive in Winnipeg on the weekend of the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions first national event. We attended several events and particularly the Project of Heart display. We have lived in Sechelt BC for the past 32 years and have several close ties to people in the Sechelt Indian Band. It was with a certain amount of humility, shame and reverence that we completed a few tiles in memory those who attended the Sechelt Residential School. As a result of the impact of this experience on us, we got in touch with the United Church minister who we heard was involved with a Truth and Reconciliation group within the United Church. We also spoke to the rector at St Hilda’s Anglican Church which we attend. They were both interested in collaborating on some kind of awareness program that could also incorporate Project of Heart.

In March 2011 we started a 6 week series on reconciliation and residential schools using a study package put together by the United Church. A Lytton Band member who now lives in Sechelt, spoke of his residential school experience including being one of the first survivors to challenge the church and state in court. He was very engaging and open about what happened to him and is excited about the possibilities of working together with all people who want healing.

A week later, a young woman from the Sechelt Band spoke of the history of the Sechelt Nation and a bit of her own story as the daughter of a residential school survivor. The Chief of the Sechelt Band, Gary Feschuk, was also there and he spoke in a very open and forthright way about his experience as someone who is trying to find healing for his community and the frustrations he encounters – continually – in dealing with government agencies. It was a very revealing and emotionally charged hour.

In June 2011 we showed the movie “’The Fallen Feather” at St Hilda’s. We had a fairly good turn out (35-40) and over half stayed on for a discussion circle after. We were fortunate to have 4 members of the Sechelt Band attend and talk with us after the film. Also, the Sechelt IRS Survivors worker shared his perspective and frustrations.

We requested a Project of Heart package with a banner and put it to use right away. Twenty people got together Fri night and all day Sat (Oct 1) at St John’s United Church to share our knowledge, and ignorance, of the Indian Residential Schools in a Dialogue Circle. We were honoured to have 5 Sechelt First Nation members as part of the group, one of whom was a survivor of the Sechelt Residential School and one who is the current chief of the Sechelt Indian Band.

Facilitators Kanatiio and TseeTseeWatulWit took us through the history of the development of the IRS system and a bit of prehistory i.e. the ideas, thinking and attitudes that allowed the reality of the IRS to occur. We shared our experiences, and in some cases non-experiences, of racism, paternalism and colonialism. It was very revealing for everyone. Some of the Band members didn’t know a lot of the details of the development of the IRS and certainly several of the non-aboriginal people knew next to nothing of the experience of SIB members in our shared community of Sechelt. The great thing was that we were all open to hearing and learning from each other. It was a very rewarding experience. We arranged time to decorate Project of Heart tiles. People didn’t really know what to expect, but were pleasantly surprised by the meditative quality of the exercise and really appreciated the opportunity to be able to show their consideration in this unexpected way.

In the spring of 2012, along with several other recent events – another Dialogue Circle at St John’s United, a couple of cultural awareness programs at the Sechelt Longhouse, a drumming circle that now meets monthly and our adult native studies program. We had a very moving National Aboriginal Day Sunday Service at St Hilda’s, drumming and all … As part of the service, I spoke about Project of Heart and invited people to decorate tiles after the service. People really appreciated the physical act of drawing, colouring, and creating which gave meaning in a way that talking doesn’t and they felt it.

The Sechelt Band member who was to smudge the tiles suggested we have a sweat, that way we and the tiles would be cleansed at the same time. The site of the lodge is within throwing distance of where the residential school building used to stand on one side and the same distance the other way to the Band’s cemetery. A little eerie but also a deep feeling of significance. We gathered on the equinox, placing the tiles on the altar in front of the sweat lodge. The sharing was very intimate and very healing – the tiles have been well blessed!

It has been a profoundly enlightening, emotional, ecumenical and healing journey that started for us in a room at the Forks in Winnipeg. A journey that continues to surprise as we find how much we don’t know and that healing is needed by the settler community as well. Thank you Project of Heart for being an integral and significant part of this journey of reconciliation.



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