National Indigenous Peoples Day is celebrated on June 21, and one local initiative is calling on people to “lend a hand” for a movement called “unbroken together” which seeks unity in the face of recovery and reconciliation.
On June 21, a seven metre tipi (24 feet) will be raised in Osoyoos by the We Will Recover Society, in conjunction with the Osoyoos Indian Band (OIB), to raise awareness and educate people about “Canada’s shameful legacy of colonization and residential schools, and how these atrocities continued to devastate First Nations people,” Lori Vrebosch, Executive Director of We Will Recover said.
The massive canvas has been undergoing transformations. On June 12, around 100 students from South Okanagan Secondary School (SOSS) participated in painting the black, white, and teal portions of the design.
On June 14, hundreds of students from Sen’Pok’Chin, Tuc-el-Nuit, and Oliver Elementary School descended onto Oliver Community Park to “lend a hand” and place their unique orange painted handprint onto the canvas.
The goal of this initiative is to gather 500 unique handprints from children and adults in Oliver and Osoyoos, “who are standing with us and making a commitment to support recovery and reconciliation in our community,” Vrebosch explained.
“The whole idea of this tipi, and the reason why we did it is because 500 handprints from the local community shows that we have 500 supporters at least, that we’re able to participate in a shared journey of recovery and reconciliation. And I think that is a pretty strong commitment, and a strong show of solidarity,” Vrebosch commented.
On National Indigenous Peoples Day, the tipi will be erected and undergo a tipi transfer ceremony, followed by a blessing from Chief of the OIB Clarence Louie. The structure will then be open to the public for people to come in and view the educational display.
Vrebosch commented that the tipi, being an iconic Indigenous symbol, will continue to be raised throughout the South Okanagan on various occasions and important dates, including Canada Day.
“We know from our previous initiatives where we have raised a painted tipi that it draws a lot of attention from the public. Everyone wants to come inside to experience the beauty and architecture of the lodges,” We Will Recover said in a statement.
This initiative is also not only for the Indigenous, but is an initiative that crosses boundaries. Dora Stelkia commented that, “so many people, non-native people are trying to be involved, trying to figure out how, in ways that is respectful,”.
Stelkia continued to say that it is hard, but “people like Lori are willing to find ways to do things and be involved . . . If there are more (individuals) working together, then those gaps can be bridged, it’s just a matter of actually finding ways, and the right people implementing these activities, or programs.”
Vrebosch continued: “We know Indigenous people continue to be overrepresented in social issues like the opioid crisis, homelessness, jails, and the child welfare system and it is high time we take collective action in addressing these issues responsibly.”
We Will Recover is a local Oliver-based, Indigenous-led non-profit society. They provide a range of peer support groups, programs, and services to individuals and families in the community impacted by mental health, substance use and related harms and deaths.
They also promote “a safe, welcoming, and non-judgmental atmosphere where all people are invited and encouraged to walk with us on a healing journey of recovery and reconciliation,” their social media notes.
Vrebosch explained that, “we had another initiative like this in Lethbridge, we did not host the painting, but we were lent the tipi and it went up for a month in Park Place Mall in Lethbridge. It was awesome, everyone and their brother wanted to see the tipi, because many people, even Indigenous people, haven’t been inside a tipi before.”