A three-day walk to heal the spirits of residential school survivors in the Cariboo Chilcotin took place the weekend of Aug. 20.
Esk’etemc Chief Fred Robbins, whose community organized the walk from the site of the former St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School south of Williams Lake to his community, welcomed everyone during the opening ceremony.
“I thank you to the people of the white Earth to come and support us in our walk and our healing journey to heal our spirit and to bring our children home,” Robbins said. “I want to thank you for lending your generous hearts to us today to help us in this journey.”
He described it as a marathon, not a sprint.
“We are all in this together. It’s been far too long for this to happen and now First Nations have a voice once again. With that voice we want to be heard, not just listened to anymore.”
Robbins thanked the staff who put the walk together, as well as the RCMP and Fisheries and Oceans Canada for helping with the walk.
“These are the ways relationships are struck. Please if you are a guest joining us on this walk, have a chat and talk with one another because we are all in this together. We cannot leave anybody behind.”
Each walker was asked to take a teddy bear from a collection on the grass and Rose Wilson said she took two because she was walking for other members of her family.
Wilson is the mom of Phyllis Webstad, whose story about having her new, orange shirt taken away at her first day of school at St. Joseph’s Mission, inspired Orange Shirt Day which is now recognized across the globe.
“I’m so proud of my daughter,” Wilson said as she prepared to walk. “I’m glad that we came here to bring our children home — even if they are grown up or gone.”
As she walked she planned to think about her mom, brother and sister who all attended the residential school.
“Their spirits are still here, that’s why I picked up two teddies,” she said.
William Johnson said he attended St. Joseph’s for nine years, starting in 1953.
“It has a lot of history,” he said of the school.
Irene Lulua, whose home community is Xeni Gwet’in First Nation, attended St. Joseph’s Mission and said the experiences were not all good.
“Abuse and not being able to talk to my siblings and watching my little brothers crying and not being able to comfort them had me in tears,” she recalled.
Participating in the walk last weekend was a good experience.
“It was very emotional when I heard the drums as we finished walking each day. I’m glad I had the chance to walk with my extended family from Alkali,” Lulua said Tuesday.
The route of the walk followed one that some children used to run away from the school.
From the mission site the walkers proceeded to Onward Ranch, through the road on the ranch then up a rough road over the mountain and down to the Felker Lake Recreation site on the other side. On Saturday they walked to 2 Mile Lake near Springhouse and then on Sunday walked to the Esk’etemc Arbour where there was a ceremony and feast.