OKIB elder: reconciliation still far off - 'but we're trying'

'Indians before all else'

A sea of orange gathered outside Vernon City Hall Friday to mark the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

The second annual remembrance, informally known as Orange Shirt Day, mixed sombre recollections of Canada's residential school past and hopeful messages for a brighter shared future.

The Okanagan Nation and Syilx flags were raised atop City Hall to applause from the crowd following prayers from Okanagan Indian Band elders Pauline Archachan-Gregoire and Patricia Gregoire.

Archachan-Gregoire said she was proud to see so many orange T-shirts.

She was presented with a sweetgrass hoop by host Anetha Kashuba of the Vernon and District Immigrant Services Society, who is herself Metis.

"I'm happy to be here, to reconcile so they say," said Archachan-Gregoire. "But we're far from it ... but were trying."

She offered a prayer and blessing in the Syilx tongue to the hushed crowd.

Afterwards, in English, she said: "We're not aboriginals, we're Indians. We're not natives, you can be native from any country. We're Indians, North American Indians. Not East Indians, Indians. We are Indians before anything else."

Gregoire was accompanied by her great grandson Antoine, who carried a large eagle wing

She offered a prayer to care for all of creation.

Vernon Mayor Victor Cumming asked: "What does truth really mean? What does reconciliation really mean? ... We're starting to understand that we all have a role to play."

He said a "path to true, honest reconciliation will take time," but that we are taking steps "to move together in a better future."

MLA Harwinder Sandhu also spoke, and said as an immigrant, she never learned about the wrongs perpetrated against Canada's First Nations.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission's 94 calls to action were also read out.

Meanwhile, in Enderby, the Splatsin First Nation held a commemorative walk and ceremony, including speakers, drumming, and a luncheon.

"We're beginning to tell our story, we're beginning to write our own history," said organizer Tswum Rosalind Williams.

The event was attended by a crowd of hundreds.

Orange Shirt Day began in B.C. as a legacy of the St. Joseph Mission Residential School (1891-1981) commemoration project and reunion in Williams Lake.

A then six-year-old Phyllis (Jack) Webstad had her shiny new orange shirt, bought by her grandmother, taken away on her first day at residential school.

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