Lheidli T’enneh’s 215 day official mourning period, in honour of the children found at the former Kamloops Residential School and those found at other residential schools across the country this year, is soon coming to an end.
In early June, Lheidli T’enneh Chief and Council asked all of its partners who fly the Lheidli T’enneh flag to lower them to half-mast for a period of 215 days.
An emotion-filled flag-lowering event was held at Prince George City Hall and a similar event was held the following day at the Regional District of Fraser-Fort George office.
On Tuesday, Jan. 4. Lheidli T’enneh will host a flag-raising ceremony at City Hall at 2:15 p.m.
Lheidli T’enneh will raise a new flag that features an orange ribbon in the lower right corner which will serve to honour the kids found in Kamloops and all who died at residential schools.
“There were many tears shed during the flag-lowering ceremony at City Hall in early June. While the journey of Indigenous kids at residential schools in Canada will never end, the 215 day memorial period for the kids found at Kamloops will conclude January 4,” said Chief Dolleen Logan.
“Having an orange ribbon on our new memorial flag is a reminder that we will never forget the kids that didn’t make it home from residential schools and their families. We also believe it sends the right message as well to residential school survivors that they too will never be forgotten.”
The orange ribbon has become a national symbol of remembrance for children who died while attending church-run residential schools.
“When we first heard about the 215 students, it was very impactful for me because the very first job I had was working at an elementary school and we had 215 students, so I know what 215 faces looks like,” said Lheidli T’enneh Councillor Joshua Seymour.
“This really brought a call to action not for just Indigenous people but Canadians, as a whole, to come together and understand the dark legacy of residential schools and to understand we are still experiencing it, although the last residential school closed down in 1996.”
Seymour noted that Indigenous people are still feeling the after-effects of residential schools.
“Recently the number of graves that have been found within the schools is in the high 7,000s and we've only searched 10 schools of the 139,” said Seymour.
He noted that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has estimated there may be between six and seven thousand graves at residential schools and that number has already been surpassed with only a few schools searched.
“It is important to understand that a lot of people who attended the schools are still with us today,” said Seymour.
“This isn’t ancient history. This is our history and we are actually living this legacy currently and people need to remember this is only 10 schools. There are still 129 schools that need to be searched. The number we have now will increase and I think we need to prepare for that, not just as Indigenous people who have suffered through the legacy of residential schools, but as Canadians and just as human beings.”
Many Lheidli T’enneh members attended Lejac Residential School, which is near Fraser Lake. However, Logan noted she is not aware of a timeline in terms of searching that site for any unmarked graves.
“There should be no graveyards at schools at all,” said Seymour. “People will try to brush that off as something that happened in the past and something that is ancient history but they need to understand the last school closed down in 1996 and that is in my lifetime.”
Logan said Lheidli T’enneh has asked all of its partners to fly the new memorial flag which includes the orange ribbon following the ceremony on Jan. 4.
“Tuesday, Jan. 4 will be a solemn day and a solemn way to begin the new year but will be very important to our members and the community in general,” said Logan.
“The story of residential schools in Canada needs to be better understood by all Canadians and we see it as part of the ‘truth’ in Truth and Reconciliation. We cannot have reconciliation until we accept the truth and the truth of residential schools in Canada is one of the darkest periods in Indigenous history in this country.”