Michael Kelly Gabriel

Kwantlen First Nation members speak about healing, reconciliation

Aboriginal residential schools are the focus of a weekend-long conference at Yorkson Creek Middle School.

Saturday was a day of healing and awareness at Yorkson Creek Middle School.

Over the past two days, the Langley Journey to Reconciliation Committee hosted events at the school, centering around aboriginal residential schools and their impact on Canadian history.

Residential schools were government-sponsored religious schools established in the late 1800s to assimilate aboriginal children into Euro-Canadian culture.

Originally conceived by Christian churches and the Canadian government, the two primary objectives of the residential schools system were to remove and isolate children from the families, traditions and cultures, and to assimilate them into the dominant culture.

Roughly 150,000 First Nation, Inuit, and Métis children were separated from their families and made to attend residential schools.

The last residential school closed in 1996.

Since then, former students have pressed for recognition and restitution, resulting in the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement in 2007 and a formal public apology by former prime minister Stephen Harper on June 11, 2008.

“The government now recognizes that the consequences of the Indian Residential Schools policy were profoundly negative and that this policy has had a lasting and damaging impact on Aboriginal culture, heritage and language,” Harper said in his public apology. “While some former students have spoken positively about their experiences at residential schools, these stories are far overshadowed by tragic accounts of the emotional, physical and sexual abuse and neglect of helpless children, and their separation from powerless families and communities.”

Speaking inside the school gym late Saturday morning, Chief Marilyn Gabriel of Fort Langley’s Kwantlen First Nation said “today is about honouring our [residential schools] survivors.”

“It’s time to do something about this so we never forget and this never happens again.”

Michael Kelly Gabriel, son of Marilyn Gabriel and her husband Kevin Kelly, offered a younger person’s perspective about the history of aboriginal residential schools.

“Today, we come together and work together as one,” Michael said. “This is a healing journey, and also a journey of understanding of what our survivors have gone through.”

Reconciliation is a “word of many meanings,” he said. “Everybody has a different approach to it.”

“Right now,” he added, “I hold my hands high to everybody in this room, taking this all in.”

Michael was chosen as one of two B.C. representatives at a recently held national conference to, he said, “put forward what reconciliation means to young people.”

“There were two people from each province, there were 28 of us in the room and man, there were some beautiful people who were in there,” Michael said. “They’re old souls in young bodies.”

A girl from Nova Scotia who Michael met at the conference created a documentary that she posted on YouTube and in the documentary, she interviewed her elders.

“There’s one quote [in the documentary] that… I’m going to live by from now on,” Michael shared. “This elder who got up on stage said, ‘reconciliation in my eyes is living, breathing, speaking, singing, and [taking] whatever teachings that I was taught and passing them down to the younger generations.’”

As part of the events, Sunday includes an Interfaith Ceremony of Healing, starting at 6:30 p.m. at United Church, 21562 Old Yale Rd., and all are welcome.

The federal Truth and Reconciliation Commission recently released 94 calls to action (recommendations).

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