ONA Okanagan Nation Response Team helping communities recover from residential school horrors

Another level of healing

This article contains a personal account of abuse endured or witnessed by children at residential “school” that may be triggering. It mentions suicide and violence against children including: sexual, physical, mental and emotional abuse. Support for survivors and their families is available through the Indian Residential School Survivors Society at 1-800-721-0066, 1-866-925-4419 for the 24-7 crisis line. The KUU-US Crisis Line Society also offers 24-7 support at 250-723-4050 for adults, 250-723-2040 for youth, or toll free at 1-800-588-8717.

Kim Montgomery and Charlotte Whitehead of the Okanagan Nation Alliance (ONA) are embracing their culture and honouring grief protocols as sqilxw women as they strive to hold up a community steeped in grief.

“We aren’t just feeling one death, we are feeling 215 deaths, 215 at the same time,” says Kim, in reference to the news about the children’s remains found on the former grounds of a church-run institution known as Kamloops Indian Residential School (KIRS).

“We have never done that as a people. I just pray we never have to do this again,” she tells IndigiNews.

KIRS was run by the Roman Catholic Church from 1890 until 1969, when the federal government took over administration of the “school,” according to the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre (IRSHDC) at the University of British Columbia. It was closed in 1978.

On May 27, Kúkpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir of the Tk’emlúps te Secwe?pemc announced that ground-penetrating radar had revealed the remains of 215 children on KIRS’ former grounds.

The ONA Okanagan Nation Response Team (ONRT) or S?x k?nxit ?lx (Those Who Help) is “a team of community members who have received extensive training in the areas of suicide education, community mobilization and critical incident response.”

“Most of our team members have been affected by the findings so most of our team members are taking the time to process and take care of themselves,” says Charlotte, the team’s senior co-ordinator.

Kim is ONA’s mental health lead. She believes this is a monumental time for the Syilx people to recall their teachings and remember who they are.

“We have the skills in our communities to take care of our people,” she says.

ONRT was created to care for the grief of the Syilx people. Kim shares that it’s hard for people to trust in the old ways, in ceremony and the healing power it holds, due to the impacts of colonization.

“We forget we have the timxw, we have ceremony, we have the sweat, we have the water, we have rose bush. We have all the things we do in our grief work. We can cut our hair. There are so many things we can do that help us that Kwulenchuten gave us — we have everything we need,” she says.

Kim says she believes the Ancestors wouldn’t have revealed themselves if they didn’t feel the people were ready.

“There is a reason [the children] are showing themselves to us right now,” she says.

“They know we’re ready right now and that we can take care of this … This is just another level of healing we have to do.”

She encourages people to trust in Kwulenchuten (Creator), to not “sit in the ‘why’ of it” or give power to the voice that says we’ll never get through this.

“Because we will. We always do. We have no choice other than to keep moving,” she shares with strength in her voice.

Remember who you are as Syilx people, she says, and reach out for help.

“Feel it, move through it, be sad, be mad, be angry, but then take care of it — because we have work to do,” she says.

- Indiginews

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