Emotions bubbled to the surface for many as a memorial pole for children who died attending residential schools arrived in Campbell River for a blessing before heading out on a tour across Vancouver Island municipalities.
Verna Flanders was moved to tears in Campbell River Saturday.
“So many of us little ones wanted to commit suicide, so many of us,” said Flanders, now 81, who raised her hands to a memorial pole dedicated to children who died in residential schools, and remembered her own experience.
“They’re with us. They’re not alone,” said Flanders.
From aged six to 16 she attended a residential school in Alert Bay, and told CHEK News she has spent much of her life still feeling trapped in those walls.
“It’s really hard to see,” said Flanders, describing the memorial pole.
“Because the way it’s painted all black, that’s how I lived in a residential school. All in dark corners.”
Port Hardy carver Stan Hunt, spent years bringing the pole to life, after the discovery of 215 unmarked graves at the site of the former residential school in Tk’emlups. Hunt said he painted the pole black to reflect the pain and sorrow of the children whose faces are depicted in its wood.
“There’s been so many people that have come by and it’s had an effect on so many people,” said Hunt.
The memorial pole was blessed at its stop in Campbell River, before making its way on to Gold River, Nanaimo, Duncan and Victoria in the days to come. On June 20 it will be transported from Victoria to Vancouver by Coast Guard hovercraft to where it will be installed on Indigenous People’s Day (June 21st).
“It’s all about truth, and trying to figure out the truth why these children not only were they put into the ground, but why were they never identified previously,” Shawn Decaire, a member of the Laichwiltach First Nation, that encompasses the area around Campbell River.
“And I hope we don’t just find them. I hope everyone of them had a name. As we go, we keep gathering all this love, all of this strength and all this power, all this love from people,” said Hunt.
The schedule for the tour of the memorial pole is as follows:
- June 16: Carrot Park
- June 17: Thunderbird Park, Campbell River
- June 18: Gold River
- June 19: Nanaimo, Duncan, Malahat First Nation
- June 20: Victoria, in front of the Empress
- June 21: Victoria Inner Harbour to be brought to Vancouver on a Canadian Coast Guard hovercraft arriving at 2 p.m.
Exact times and locations will be posted on the Indian Residential School Memorial Monument Facebook page.