The moment of hope and incredible potential is emerging said Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn A-In-Chut Atleo in Williams Lake Friday.
Atleo was giving the opening address on day two of Remembering, Recovering and Reconciling, the Truth and Reconciliation Statement Gathering, in Williams Lake that began May 16.
“I feel hope for the future of our people,” Atleo said. “It’s an honour that you’ve come together in unity from different nations. It’s a powerful statement. You’ve come together to support the journey of the survivors, to mark and commemorate what has occurred, as well as to celebrate the moments that are to come.”
It’s hopeful that mayors and directors from the Cariboo Regional District, School District #27, Thompson Rivers University, the RCMP, and church leaders were also present, Atleo said.
“I remember when I was on a ride to the St. Joseph’s Mission site in 2007. I remember that moment, we were on horseback, and we were riding to the mission.”
There was a tightness in his stomach that comes with emotions and he said he was sure survivors must have felt that when they went to the monument unveiling at the site on May 16.
“I want to say that we’re here with you. That we recognize you’re honouring students who didn’t make it. That their memory is important and that the work continues of honouring the ancestors.”
When he joined the group in 2007 on horses and wagon, he realized the leaders, such as Xeni Gwet’in Chief Roger William who had invited him, were saying “it was a dreadful journey at one time.”
“You’ve transferred that now into a journey for healing to be out there together. That’s the work that’s happening here. That courageous manner in which our people have always been able to face challenges and come face to face with an institution that wreaked havoc on you and your lives, on your families and communities.”
Quoting Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s apology statement in 2008, Atleo said decisions were taken that should have never been taken, and must never be taken again.
“I will never forget that moment because I got to hold the hand of my late granny Elsie Robinson, my Aunty Louise’s late mom, who passed away four years ago.”
Elsie, 87, took Atleo’s hand and said: “They’re just beginning to see us grandson. You see, even in a moment, there was a measure of justice that my late granny was feeling. But I think more importantly, as grandmothers want to do, to express that and encourage her grandson to find the healing potential.”
His granny wanted him to realize that through all the difficulties she wanted to encourage her grandson that Canada was staring to see Aboriginal people and that was a good thing.
“She said I’m content with my life. I’m content and happy and proud of my family. To people who experienced the residential school like my granny and my aunty, I hold my hands up in appreciation for you bearing the full responsibility and blunt of the biggest challenge our people have faced.”
Many residential school survivors have provided leadership, he added.
“I think about the courage it has taken for so many of our people to speak up, to write their stories.”
They have worked with the RCMP to anchor and support a safe framework for healing, Atleo added.
“The intergenerational traumas and cycles that are beginning to be broken by the exciting work being done. We have young people here among us who are participating, learning and understanding this legacy that we collectively inherited.”
“There are many in this region that have had the courage to hold perpetrators accountable, as well as through the courts. They not only held them accountable before the courts, but they facilitated healing circles.”
Healing circles bring better results, that many years of courts and lenient sentences, Atleo said.
“You can stand proud to have reconciled your past to create healthy families and communities. As a 46 year old, I must express and commend those of you celebrating 25 to 35 years sobriety. Thank you,” he said to a huge applause.
“Your strength has helped move thousands across the country to face their own experiences in residential school.”
Leadership in the Cariboo-Chilcotin provided a pathway for healing and reconciliation, he reminded.
“I want to recognize the Cariboo Tribal Council facilitating important research on Indian Residential Schools on your families and communities. This has charted a path to recovery. They also held the first national conference on Indian Residential Schools in 1991. We recognize this leadership, celebrate and appreciate this leadership.”
“It was done at a time when nobody wanted to talk about it. It was a big taboo. Thank you for breaking that.”