Students of Constable Neil Bruce Middle School joined forces with the RCMP on Friday to canoe from Kelowna’s City Park to Westbank in advance of Truth and Reconciliation Day.
After a ceremony was held in Kelowna, the canoes were welcomed onto Westbank First Nation Land across the water, trading gifts, stories, and joining Indigenous elders in singing the Okanagan song.
“We had the youths with the smudging and the songs and the water ceremony. It’s a year-long project for us where we take these youths from the school and we teach them traditional stuff that will eventually end up in the Truth and Reconciliation day, which is today,” said Const. Rohel Williams of the West Kelowna RCMP Indigenous Police Services.
“Half of our kids here, you can notice there are some Indigenous and non-Indigenous kids, we don’t turn them away. The RCMP and some of our elders here are teaching the kids together and they learn to understand what truth and reconciliation is all about, and it makes them work together. I think that’s the best thing that can happen.”
Const. Michael Della-Paolera joined the paddle across Okanagan Lake for the second straight year, feeling very honoured to be given the opportunity.
"I’m very proud of the RCMP’s efforts to work with Indigenous people across the country, to deal with the truth and reconciliation issues that we have, and to move that forward to put us in a better place,” said Della-Paolera.
“I grew up in the Yukon territory working with the Tlingit First Nation, and most of my friends when I was a child were taken away and put into residential homes during the winter months, whether their parents weren’t on the land, and I didn’t understand any of that kind of stuff — so this is everyday learning about our past and working towards a positive future.”
After canoeing back to Kelowna, the students along with the RCMP, returned to WFN land to serve food and to eat with Indigenous elders.
Saturday marks the first official statutory holiday for Truth and Reconciliation in B.C.