First returning spirit bike ride held at sight of former residential school near Williams Lake

Ann Guichon hugs her daughter Kyra on Orange Shirt Day. (Gwitne Alphonse photo)
Lead teacher of Little Chiefs Primary School, JoAnne Moiese said her young students are very knowledgeable, and was surprised they knew about many of the mistreatments and injustices survivors experienced at residential school (Gwitne Alphonse photo)
Williams Lake RCMP Cpl. Ken Davies and Insp. Jeff Pelley led the way back to Little Chiefs Primary School in the 1st annual Returning Spirit Bike Ride. (Gwitne Alphonse photo)
The 1st annual Returning Spirit Bike Ride was held Sept 30 at the site of the former St. Joseph’s Mission residential school near Williams Lake. The school was torn down in the 1980s. (Gwitne Alphonse photo)
Lead teacher JoAnne Moiese credited Little Chiefs Primary School special education teaching assistant Kyleen McCarthy and staff, as well as Williams Lake RCMP Cst. Adam Hildebrandt for co-ordinating the first annual Returning Spirit Bike Ride. (Gwitne Alphonse photo)
“It was really powerful,” JoAnne Moiese said of the Williams Lake First Nation’s first annual returning spirit bike ride. (Gwitne Alphonse photo)

Elementary students gathered outside where the notorious St. Joseph’s Mission once stood to return the spirit of survivors whose emotional scars run deep and to commemorate those who are no longer with us.

Donning orange shirts donated by RCMP, around 20 students from Little Chiefs Primary School were joined by four members of the Williams Lake detachment, parents, staff and elders at the site of the former residential school on Sept. 30 to commemorate Orange Shirt Day and to mark the first of what will become an annual Returning Spirit Bike Ride.

Lead teacher JoAnne Moiese told the small group that her mother was five years old when she was taken to attend St. Joseph’s Mission near Sugar Cane.

Moiese said it was an experience her mother never talked to her and her siblings about.

“We wanted to do a ceremony to symbolize having the spirits of our ancestors, our elders, and we talked about some of the struggles that they’ve had,” she said.

“Sometimes when they’re taken away from home they end up on the streets and we say that their spirit is lost.”

Each orange shirt worn was emblazoned with the logo of the Williams Lake First Nation and BC RCMP Indigenous Policing Services. On the back were the names of 31 survivors in memory of.

“I went to residential school and I couldn’t sing my songs and I couldn’t talk my language that was taken away from me,” said Williams Lake First Nation elder Virginia Gilbert.

Choking back tears Gilbert recalled how, as a small child, she tried to run back home from St. Joseph’s Mission.

“I wanted my mom and dad so bad,” she told the group.

“I told my mom don’t tell them I’m here. She said go to bed, and the next morning the police knocked on the door and brought me back here.”

When Gilbert left St. Joseph’s Mission in 1963 she said she did not know who she was and did not want to be Indigenous.

“I was so ashamed of myself,” Gilbert said.

“That’s how much they called us down, all the names they gave us, and all the strappings and the hardships they put on us.”

Gilbert’s painful story is one of many across Canada.

“I got out then and I went on the streets for a while, and I’m just lucky that I made it to sober up and I found myself,” she said.

“I found my prayers, and I found my songs and I found my drum. I’m not ashamed of it anymore. I’m proud of who I am.”

Williams Lake First Nation Chief Willie Sellars said it meant a lot to be able come together despite COVID-19 limiting the size of the event, noting he was able to speak with Phyllis Webstad earlier in the day, who was unable to attend.

Webstad attended St. Joseph’s Mission, and her story which spurred the annual Orange Shirt Day held Sept. 30 has grown into a worldwide movement inspiring the message that every child matters.

“Every time you hear something new it is almost reopening that wound but in able to deal with that trauma, whether it’s first hand or inter-generational, we have to be able to talk about it, we have to be able to share those stories, and we have to be able to heal and honour them,” Sellars said.

Read More: Orange Shirt Society launches first textbook on residential school history

“What we do with these lands moving forward and how we honour these individuals is by doing stuff like this every day,” he said.

After releasing sage on the ground, Moiese ended the ceremony with the singing of a lahal song before Williams Lake RCMP helped ensure the students’ safe arrival back to Little Chiefs Primary School where they enjoyed healthy snacks provided by Yeqox Nilin Justice Society.

“If they stayed back their parents or their grandparents would be put in jail,” Moiese said of students who were sent to residential school.

“So it used to be really quiet in the community, and I think it was really fitting the amount of noise we made when we came back.”


Do you have a comment about this story? email:
rebecca.dyok@wltribune.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Indigenousresidential schoolsWilliams Lake

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Williams Lake Courthouse (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Charges laid following high-speed chase, arrest near Williams Lake Sunday

Tyrell Giroux appeared in Williams Lake Provincial Court on Monday, Oct. 26

There has been COVID-19 exposures at two elementary schools in District 42. (Image courtesy CDC)
Interior Health reports 24 additional COVID-19 cases

This includes three school exposures in Kelowna

Youth across B.C. took part in the Student Vote. In Cariboo Chilcotin BC Green Party David Laing got the most votes and in Cariboo North BC NDP Party Scott Elliott emerged the winner.  (Student Vote photo)
BC Student Vote 2020: Green Party wins Cariboo Chilcotin, NDP wins Cariboo North

Student vote for Cariboo ridings has different outcomes than general voting

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry arrives for briefing on the COVID-19 situation, B.C. legislature, Oct. 26, 2020 (B.C. government)
B.C. records 217 more COVID-19 cases, mask use urged

Infection spike continues, 21 senior facilities affected

Seven-year-old Aaliyah Rosa was found dead in an apartment in Langley in July. (Langley Advance Times files)
Child’s body cold, no pulse: Off-duty cop testifies in Langley mother’s murder trial

The seven-year-old girl’s mother faces a first-degree murder charge

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Tyrell Giroux was arrested by Williams Lake RCMP on Sunday, Oct. 25. (Facebook video screenshot)
Tsilhqot’in leaders call for suspension of officers seen in controversial Williams Lake arrest

Disturbing video demands an immediate, independent investigation, says TNG

People march during a climate strike in Montreal, Friday, Sept. 27, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Judge rejects 15 youths’ climate change lawsuit against Canadian government

Justice Michael Manson has granted the government’s motion to strike the plaintiffs’ claim

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

A woman walks through check in at WestJet at Pearson International airport during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Strong support for pre-flight COVID testing ahead of upcoming WestJet trial: YVR

Airport is partnering with UBC, which is helping choose the method of pre-flight testing

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau provides an update on the COVID pandemic during a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau says pandemic ‘really sucks,’ and that Christmas gatherings are up in the air

The prime minister encouraged residents to continue to follow the advice of local health authorities

The Williams Lake Indian Band is stipulating no-go zones for mushroom picking in areas burned by last summer’s wildfires. 100 Mile Free Press photo
Who controls mushroom harvesting on Indigenous lands?

‘We don’t necessarily know where the mushrooms grow, how old the stands need to be, those types of things.’

Most Read