Reconciliation Week: A Reflection

Text and photos by
Laara Ynea*

A First Nations friend from Alert Bay informed me about a canoe gathering in False Creek on Tuesday, Sept. 17. He said that’s what the First Nations people used to do. He said sometimes the dugout canoes can get as large as 8’ across and can hold 100 people. It sounded very interesting. I went to the internet and found that the event was a part of the week long National Reconciliation Week Vancouver recognizing survivors of the residential schools. I decided to combine it with my morning run. While I was getting ready to go, I could hear the children from the neighbouring school screaming and cheering for the paddlers in the canoes. Camera across my chest and only stopped to capture the spirit of the event. I’ve never seen a canoe gathering and was excited to see the various dugout canoes painted in different colors and designs. The paddlers sang and were in colourful attires and regalia. The familiar dragon boats were at the end of the water parade with drummers beating at rhythmic intervals. The east end of False Creek was where the gathering took place with a traditional ceremony. Speakers one by one took the microphone, some came as far as Australia, New Zealand, and Guatemala! There were chiefs from various bands, survivors, and their descendants who provided us with a glimpse of what they sojourned in the residential schools. A lady spoke about 4 generations of her family who were subjected to various abuses in the residential schools. The residential schools were conducted by various churches and funded by our federal government. Speakers choked with emotions that have been suppressed for their life time and finally an opportunity to release and share with the rest of the world. Another lady gave us a brief history of the residential schools that it started in the 1800s and only expired in 1996! I was shocked that it concluded so recently. The boats gathered in flotillas. I was impressed when the chief or representative from each band asked permission to land on the host territory. They brought greetings and gifts. There was so much respect in the native culture-respect for one another and the elders. The elders were the only ones who had chairs to sit for the duration of the long ceremony! There was so much sadness, pain, and forgiveness for their abusers. In spite of all the suffering, there was love and appreciation for their lives and for the Creator. I was moved to the core.  

*Laara Ynea is a retired Vancouver teacher.