By Malcolm McColl
The residential school system has led to a multi-generational catastrophe in First Nation life. The schools were such a complete disaster that the Government of Canada had to make a formal apology in 2008. Financial compensation is underway, but healing requires grassroots action.
That’s where people involved with the Residential School Gathering Committee in Lytton come into the picture. “[The committee] is made up of about 10 to 15 people, and at times there were up to 20 to 25 in the group,” said Gilbert Isaac, one of the organizers. “Lorraine Hance is in charge, and Verna Miller is also heavily involved. Jean York is the president of the group.”
It is a busy committee, currently organizing an event to accelerate the healing process by gathering together residential school survivors in Lytton, B.C. this Fall. The organizing committee is putting together a three-day program scheduled for August 1st-3rd, 2009. “We started in April to get things done with posters, invitations, news releases, First Nation news outlets, and recruiting entertainers,” said Gilbert.
Gilbert expects it to be a good-sized gathering. “It will be at the site of the St. George’s Residential School that burned down in the 1980’s. We have people from all over the province who attended the school in Lytton. We have heard from Prince Rupert where a lot of families with school survivors will be coming to Lytton. This gathering is open to any residential school survivor.”
Nkixsten James, a member of the Gitxsan Spirit group, wrote to tell Gilbert Isaac, “We must honour the Gitxsan for their devoted efforts to end the battle of the Residential School Syndrome. You can come and greet them as they enter into Lytton heading towards the battlefield where the Residential School Survivors Gathering is going to take place on August 1, 2, and 3. We need your voices to sing our chants of welcome to them as they arrive.” Nkixsten explained that the Gitxsan Spirit is a group of residential school survivors established in February 2004 “to support, encourage, and educate survivors and their families in healing and healing issues.”
The group’s thirty-plus members gather informally on a monthly basis, and are organizing the Gitxsan Spirit Walk in BC from Hazelton to Lytton (about 600 miles apart). The main purpose of the Gitxsan Spirit Walk will be to continue to raise awareness of residential school survivors and their families’ life long healing process. Family members and supporters are encouraged to walk beside survivors and attend the reunion in Lytton, BC. They will be making their entrance into Lytton this coming July 31st, which is the National Day of Reconciliation.
Nkixsten recounts some of the history: “Up to five generations of Aboriginal children had attended residential schools, with the BC province having the most government and church-operated schools. Children were relocated from their families, nations, and lands. On a national level, the past nine years have had healing programs and projects open and close, all dependent on short-term funding.”
Nkixsten says, “Healing is a lifelong issue crossing generational boundaries. And the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal is also at a critical moment.” He adds that a real commitment to genuine reconciliation and a renewed relationship will affect the social conditions faced by all future generations.
To learn more about Gitxsan Spirit, contact William Matthews by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or phone 1-250-842-5742. For more information about Lytton please contact Lorraine Hance at 1-250-455-0025.