'Healing wounds of the past': Tipi raising in South Okanagan shows commitment to recovery and reconciliation

'Healing wounds of the past'

Casey Richardson

An Indigenous-led non-profit organization raised up a seven-metre tipi in Osoyoos on Wednesday, as the start of their journey to help educate people about Canada’s history of colonization, residential schools and the effects on the Indigenous community.

The We Will Recover Society enlisted help from hundreds of South Okanagan elementary and high school students last week to “lend a hand” in painting a 24-foot tipi.

On June 12, around 100 students from South Okanagan Secondary School (SOSS) participated in painting the design's black, white, and teal portions.

Then On June 14, hundreds of students from Sen’Pok’Chin, Tuc-el-Nuit, and Oliver Elementary School came together in Oliver Community Park placing their unique orange-painted handprints onto the canvas.

Local residents from the Oliver and Osoyoos community also joined in the painting, applying orange paint onto their left hand and putting their painted handprint on the tipi canvas.

“The reason why we've done this is we've had the whole community, including four schools, and hundreds of people come to show their participation and their support and make a commitment to truth and reconciliation as well as recovery of individuals and families, from the harms that have come from Canada's shameful past, and the history of colonization and residential schools. So by placing their hands on the teepee, we asked everybody to make that commitment to recovery and reconciliation,” said Lori Vrebosch, Executive Director of We Will Recover.

We Will Recover offers a range of peer support groups, programs, and services to individuals and families impacted by mental health and substance use disorders and related harms and death.

Vrebosch lost her son Mitchell on October 2 of 2018. He was 25 years old and died of toxic drug poisoning.

“It was the worst hurt and pain that I've ever been through in my life. And being somebody who has native roots, being somebody who's lived within a First Nations community, it's horrible, watching families lose their loved ones. And I do this in honour of my own son, and all of the neighbours, friends, families, and communities that have been impacted, and it's everywhere,” she added.

The decision to raise the tipi on National Indigenous Peoples Day was to not only honour the day, Vrebosch said, but to also honour the commitment to work with one another and to bring unity.

“That's the only way that we're ever going to achieve reconciliation. To reconcile means the two parties need to be at the table, to right the wrongs,” Vrebosch said.

The tipi was erected early in the morning and underwent a tipi transfer ceremony, followed by a blessing from Chief of the OIB Clarence Louie.

“This is a Blackfoot-style teepee. We're honoured to bring guests of ours from Alberta to come here and help us with a formal tipi transfer ceremony because upholding the cultural integrity of these kinds of important ceremonies and symbols like the teepee is very important to us,” Vrebosch said.

Mark Braverock, the leader of the Sage Clan in Lethbridge, Alberta and community outreach leader, came with Barnabus Tallman, an elder with the Blood Tribe (Káínawa) of Alberta, to officiate the transfer ceremony.

“We come to respect and see that this tipi will bring blessings, but it also may bring a resurgence in the importance of our culture as healing. Going back, this tipi would be a symbol of the community of togetherness that we survived together— not individually— and the many hands on here were actually by a Blackfoot leader of our sacred societies that have been around for hundreds and hundreds of years,” Braverock said.

“We say this teepee comes from this area. So we make it official. We helped to make it official as we still carry transfer rights, we still carry the ceremonies coming from Blackfoot territory but this is not out of the ordinary to share with other nations.”

He added that it's very important to recognize that the tipi is a home, a lodge and a place of ceremony.

Moving forward this tipi will be used for ceremonies and as a part of the society’s initiative called 'Unbroken Together,' which seeks unity in the face of recovery and reconciliation.

“That’s what we believe we are when we stand hand in hand with one another,” Vrebosch said. “This tipi is not being transferred to us, this tipi is being transferred to this community, as a unifying and healing lodge, which is very much what it is.”

After the ceremony, the structure was then opened to the public for people to come in and view the educational display.

Chief Louie said he hopes that non-Indigenous people would look at National Indigenous Peoples Day and the learnings from the tipi as an opportunity to call for more action to be done.

“I think most Canadians really don't understand the history of how Canada came to be. And the injustices that were done toward First Nations people. So sure, it's good to have a day, whether it's reconciliation day, September or another day that got put out there by the federal government, which is all good…Land acknowledgments at the beginning of the meetings, they're nice gestures, but they last for five seconds. Flying our flag at municipal halls is another nice gesture. They're all nice gestures. And don't get me wrong, I'm not against them," he said.

"But we have got to get past just—I actually call them baby steps—I’d like to see some adult steps taken and that means dealing with the unsettled land questions that the Osoyoos Indian Band and all first nations across this country have.”

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.

"I would ask non-Indigenous people to make that commitment to reconciliation to stand beside our First Nations, brothers, sisters, neighbours communities. When we support one another, we make progress. It's time to heal the wounds of the past," she said.

The group will bring the tipi to Penticton for the Pow Wow Between the Lakes this weekend.

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