Carsyn Mackenzie Seaweed’s family wore white t-shirts with the teen’s photo on it. Carsyn was from the Na̱mǥis Nation on her mother’s side and Cowichan Tribes on her father’s side. She had strong family connections to both communities. Photo by Shalu Mehta
CONTENT WARNING: This story includes content regarding “Canada’s” ongoing genocidal epidemic of MMIWG2S+. Please look after your spirit and read with care.
As a dark cloud loomed overhead, hundreds of people took part in a march in Quw’utsun’ territories to show support for the family of Carsyn MacKenzie Seaweed on Wednesday.
The event in “Duncan” was held as a call for justice for the 15-year old Na̱mǥis and Quw’utsun’ girl whose suspicious death is now under investigation.
The march began at the Quw’utsun Cultural Centre and made its way through town past city hall. As the march wove through the streets, people stopped on the sidewalk and came out of shops, many with hands on their hearts, in a show of solidarity for Carsyn and her family.
Community members stopped on the street and came outside of shops to pay respects as the march walked by. Photo by Shalu Mehta
The march ended at the Cowichan Tribes soccer fields where Carsyn’s mom, Marie Seaweed, last saw her daughter.
“I gave my daughter her last hug right over there,” Seaweed said following the march. “I just want people to see Carsyn as the beautiful, happy teenager she was. She deserved to live a long life and she deserves justice.”
Carysn’s dad, Benny George of Cowichan Tribes, also spoke to the crowd after helping to lead the march.
Supported by family and community, Benny George sang and helped to lead the march in honour of his daughter, Carsyn MacKenzie. Photo by Shalu Mehta
“There’s just no words to express how I feel. I have my family here supporting me and carrying some of that burden,” said George, who added the display of support has been ongoing since he and Marie first received the news.
He thanked those that travelled to be at the march, including chiefs who arrived from “Alert Bay.” Carsyn lived in and had ties in many communities across “Vancouver Island,” and George says her loss has been felt across the Island.
She came from nobility
According to a statement by North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP, Carsyn was found in a “semi-conscious state under suspicious circumstances” on May 15. Family members of Carsyn have said she was found covered under pallets, cardboard and twigs. Tragically, Carsyn died after being found.
As previously reported by IndigiNews and the Discourse, police initially told the Cowichan Valley Citizen there was no criminality involved in her death. At a rally outside of the North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP headquarters on May 26, Insp. Chris Bear said that this was a “miscommunication”, and apologized to Carsyn’s family.
In an email statement, RCMP said Carsyn’s death is not being investigated as a homicide, but that the circumstances leading up to her discovery are considered “suspicious,” and are being investigated. The BC Coroners Service is also investigating the death.
Carsyn’s family members from both the Cowichan Valley and Alert Bay showed up at the march to support each other and call for justice and answers for Carsyn.
From left to right, Chief Rick Johnson of the Kwikwasut’inuxw Haxwa’mis First Nation, Sandy Seaweed (Carsyn’s Grandmother), Ella (Carsyn’s younger sister), and Carsyn’s mother, Marie Seaweed. Photo by Shalu Mehta
“Carsyn comes from nobility from the four tribes of Kingcome,” said Chief Rick Johnson of the Kwikwasut’inuxw Haxwa’mis First Nation.
Johnson said that on both sides of Carsyn’s family, she came from a long line of chiefs.
“The family wants some answers. Carsyn comes from a really strong family. There needs to be an investigation. We need to find out what happened.”
The family is seeking justice, Johnson said, advocating for First Nations people to have a voice in colonial systems that fund and dictate how investigations are carried out.
“The very basics of reconciliation is for First Nations to have a voice and we’re asking that from the powers that be,” Johnson said. “We’re asking that resources be put forward to the family, to the Cowichan Nation here, so an investigation can happen.”
Calls for justice and safety
Community members spoke before and after the march, including organizers Monica Patsy Jones and Joe “Bingo” Thorne.
“It saddens my heart that we had to come together as one because we lost a loved one,” Jones said.
Jones’ sister, Catherine Joe, was murdered in 1977 and the case is still unsolved. Jones now heads the non-profit Cowichan Missing and Murdered Women, Men, and Children. She and other volunteers follow tips and search areas in the Cowichan Valley to find missing community members and surface answers for families. Jones said she does this advocacy work so that no one has to carry the heavy burden of losing a loved one.
Thorne addressed the crowd before the march began, calling for people to work together — including with RCMP — to build a safer community.
“I stand with my grandchildren when I look at all the beautiful kids here, I’m honoured by your presence. We’re not just standing by you. We’re standing for you,” Thorne said.
Cowichan Tribes Chief Lydia Hwitsum noted that the harm that has been caused to Indigenous people — particularly Indigenous women who have been targeted — has been ongoing for generations. She said community members need to support each other to stay safe by looking out for others and following safety tips such as not walking alone or by sharing their locations with friends and family.
Chief Lydia Hwitsum walked with Chief Rick Johnson after she stood to raise her hands to the hundreds that participated in the march. Photo by Shalu Mehta
Colonial institutions, such as the RCMP, also need to educate themselves on the history and role they’ve played in causing harm to Indigenous communities, Hwitsum said.
“This is a call for justice,” Hwitsum said as she addressed the crowd after the march, her voice growing louder and stronger as her speech progressed.
“Our people are being targeted. We need to all stand together for the safety of this community and reach out together and lift each other up. Recognize when someone needs help and be that helping hand and heart.”
‘Bigger than a march’
Liza Haldane was at the march as a representative of the Tears to Hope Society. The society supports family members of missing and murdered loved ones. Haldane is from Nisga’a Nation, one of the communities along the Highway of Tears.
Haldane said she was at the march as a mother of two Indigenous girls — two girls who she said will not become statistics.
“I just want to honour everybody here that came to fight for that justice,” Haldane said. “Not just for the injustices of all of the missing and murdered, but for the injustices of just being able to be free on our territories.”
Residential “school” survivor Eddie Charlie and friend Kristin Spray — co-founders of Victoria Orange Shirt Day — were at the march as well. Charlie said he felt compelled to attend after seeing the news about Carsyn online. Charlie and Spray presented Carsyn’s mother and grandmother with blankets.
Eddie Charlie, co-founder of Victoria Orange Shirt Day, said he felt like he needed to show up for the march and speak after seeing the news about Carsyn Mackenzie online. Photo by Shalu Mehta
Charlie said one thing he believes everyone needs to do is listen to each other and the stories everyone has. He spoke about the impacts of intergenerational trauma — particularly trauma caused by residential “schools” — and said that in order to heal, people need to talk about it.
“We need to stand up and start talking. We need our people to listen. That’s how we’re going to be able to work together, be strong as a community, be strong as family again,” Charlie said.
After the march, Cowichan Tribes council member Howie George spoke on behalf of Joe Thorne and addressed the crowd. He raised his hands to Carsyn’s family and the Chiefs who travelled to Quw’utsun lands from Alert Bay and said that the community wants to help the family heal.
March for Justice co-organizer Joe “Bingo” Thorne (left) stands beside Cowichan Tribes Council Member Howie George after the march. Photo by Shalu Mehta
George spoke about how the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous people has touched communities across “Canada” and the “U.S.” for generations. He said he hopes the feeling of love and support felt at the march makes its way to people in power so change can happen. He also called for more funding and support from RCMP to lead investigations into the missing and murdered and said people need to come together to solve this issue.
“This is way bigger than what we can do ourselves. It’s bigger than a march,” George said. “But the march we have is from true love. We can send that. We have the magic to send that feeling straight to the top.”
Family seeks answers
Standing with her youngest daughter, Ella, after the march, Marie Seaweed remembered her daughter Carsyn as a “beautiful 15-year-old girl.” She said Carsyn was a “natural caretaker” who loved her family and siblings and always made people laugh. Carsyn loved soccer, had goals to become a nurse and was excited to get her driver’s licence next year, her mother said.
Carsyn’s mother, Marie Seaweed (left) stands with her eight-year-old daughter Ella and her mother, Sandy following the march. Photo by Shalu Mehta
RCMP have been keeping in contact to the extent that they can regarding the investigation into Carsyn’s death, Seaweed said. Seeing so many people spreading the word about Carsyn’s case and sharing posters about it leaves Seaweed feeling hopeful.
“I just want justice for my daughter,” Seaweed said. “I want to find out who did that to her, who left her there, because someone meant for her to be there. I just want to know.”
In a plea for justice, Cowichan Tribes Chief Lydia Hwitsum spoke the crowd after the march and asked anyone with any information regarding Carsyn’s case to “step up, call the police, use the online reporting [and] talk to someone.”
“Share what you know. It might be just that little bit of information that’s going to help us find justice,” Hwitsum said.
Anyone with information regarding Carsyn Mackenzie Seaweed’s case is asked to contact North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP at 250-748-5522. An online reporting tool to share information is also available.
A call to action for community safety, including personal safety recommendations, a list of crisis lines and supports and key safety and reporting contacts has also been shared by Cowichan Tribes on Facebook and the Cowichan Tribes website.
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Stó:lō confirms 158 children’s deaths at four institutions as investigation reveals rampant neglect, abuse
CONTENT WARNING: This story contains graphic details about residential “schools” that many will find distressing or triggering. Please look after your spirit and read with care.
After confirming the deaths of 158 Indigenous children at four government and church-run institutions in the “Fraser Valley,” researchers with Stó:lō Nation say they want to find the individuals who were responsible.
Following a two-year investigation, questions still remain about how many more children lost their lives while in forced custody — and about the adults responsible for their care — at the former St. Mary’s Indian Residential School, Coqualeetza Industrial Institute, All Hallows School or Coqualeetza Indian Hospital.
However, the team from Stó:lō says both Oblates of Mary Immaculate and “Canada” have blocked access to records which could help their efforts to identify what actions, or inactions, led to children’s deaths and who perpetrated the horrific abuses detailed by survivors.
“What we learned from speaking with only a handful of survivors is devastatingly traumatic and sad,” said David Schaepe, an archaeologist for Stó:lō who is leading the research project, on Thursday.
“Who perpetrated these atrocities? This is one of our core questions and remains a focus of our ongoing work.”
Research lead David Schaepe, left, and Chief David Jimmie (Lenéx wí:ót) present their findings in community on Sept. 21. Photo by Cara McKenna
Xyólhmet ye Syéwiqwélh
On Thursday afternoon, Schaepe, along with another researcher and two Stó:lō chiefs, sat under a large tent beside the former St. Mary’s Residential School.
Located on the Stó:lō village site of Pekw’Xe:yles, where missionaries descended after the community was decimated by smallpox, the red brick building now looms over the lush greenery of the land.
The former institution, now utilized as a preschool, was the longest-running residential “school” in the province and only closed its doors in 1984 after 121 total years of operation, having moved twice during that time.
It still holds many dark memories for survivors and unknowns for families of those who didn’t make it home.
The Stó:lō Nation Chiefs’ Council (SNCC) launched the Xyólhmet ye Syéwiqwélh (Taking Care of Our Children) project in 2021 to try to find answers about the children who went missing from St. Mary’s and three other institutions that operated within their unceded territories.
The announcement this week represented the results of the first phase of their investigation and was delivered to survivors, their families, media and other guests.
Chief David Jimmie (Lenéx wí:ót), president of the SNCC, began by acknowledging the strength, resilience and perseverance of the survivors in attendance before handing the floor to the researchers who detailed the various aspects of their work.
“Our sharing of this work is necessary to support the healing of our survivors and our families to overcome the multi-generational traumas resulting from the residential school experience,” Jimmie said.
“We’re also sharing our knowledge for the education of our communities and society at large, who need to understand what our survivors have understood for so long.”
Jimmie explained that the research project was launched by SNCC after hearing the news about evidence of unmarked graves at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School (KIRS) and has involved various community partners.
The methodology of the work has included poring through thousands of records, utilizing ground-penetrating radar (GPR) and LiDAR scanning, genealogy research and recording oral histories from survivors.
“We know our children lost their lives, and these institutions were to blame,” Jimmie said.
“We are working to account for our people: who they are, where they died and where they were buried. But the foundation question is why did this happen, and that question we put back to the governments, the churches, and the non-Indigenous society at large to answer and to account for their actions.”
Cutouts of orange shirts are taped on the windows of the former St. Mary’s Indian Residential School, now utilized as a preschool. Photo by Cara McKenna
Researchers share horrific details
While ground scans have been part of the research thus far, only a small fraction of the grounds — between two and four per cent — have actually been searched, and so the team is not relying on this method but rather utilizing it as a contribution to a wider scope of work.
Jimmie said the team has worked on identifying any places where children may have been put to rest, including marked burial sites and investigating potential unmarked burial sites.
“We can also confirm having identified numerous potential unmarked burials including secretive burials, at least at the St. Mary’s old school grounds,” he said.
“It is too premature in our work, and distracting to our efforts, to focus on the numbers of potential unmarked burials.”
Amber Kostuchenko, the project manager for Xyólhmet ye Syéwiqwélh, outlined the number of children’s deaths that she said have been confirmed as part of the project.
“We’ve received about half of the 70,000 relevant documents that we need to answer our questions,” she said.
“These records came from 27 different archives that were located in 47 different physical locations across Canada. Of those 35,000 documents we’ve only reviewed a small portion to date. Even so, we’ve already received detailed information about children who died.”
Kostuchenko said Stó:lō’s research has so far concluded a total of 158 children’s deaths, with the majority from illnesses. Children were known to have gotten sick with, and died from, tuberculosis and other diseases at high rates in residential “schools” because of poor sanitary conditions, overcrowding, malnourishment and general neglect from the adults supervising them.
“We have carefully and rigorously analyzed the information we’ve gathered and we are confident in sharing numbers about the children who died while at these institutions,” Kostuchenko said.
At All Hallows School, she said, there were five deaths of girls who were reported to have died because of an illness. At the Coqualeetza residential “school,” the team has so far identified with certainty that 37 children died at, or because of their attendance — with 25 reported to have died from illness and three from injuries recorded as “accidents.” The remaining nine have unknown causes of death.
“One child died because they were jumped on by another student, another child was reported to have hit their head against the bed under unknown circumstances,” said Kostuchenko, who was visibly shaken and paused to take a sip of water. “Another was reported to have broken their spine while jumping rope.”
At St. Mary’s, the team confirmed 20 “students” who died, with the youngest child being seven years old and the oldest being 18. Most were reported to have died from illness, while the remaining three had unknown causes of death.
“Lastly, I want to talk about Coqualeetza Indian Hospital,” she said. “Through our work of historical documents, we’ve so far identified, with certainty, 96 children who died at the Coqualeetza Indian Hospital.”
Of that, 79 were reported to have died from tuberculosis while seven were reported to have passed from a different illness such as pneumonia or cardiac arrest during surgeries. The remaining 10 have unknown causes of death, she said.
Schaepe said survivors shared many atrocities of their experiences at the four institutions, and as he shared some of the testimony, people in the audience were visibly rattled, and some cried, including one woman who loudly sobbed upon hearing the upsetting details.
“We heard cases of children being killed, we heard of the secretive burial of children who died and the forced burial of children by other children,” Schaepe said.
“We learned of the secretive burial of babies. We were told that the St. Mary’s old school was characterized as a place of punishment and starvation, and the new school as a place of pedophilia.”
Children were exposed to disease, exploited for child labour and starved while they were institutionalized, and Schaepe’s voice shook as he spoke of children “having to choose between eating green, spoiled bologna or not eating at all.”
He then spoke of “rampant” sexual abuse that also took place at St. Mary’s — something that partially came to light in 2004 when former boys’ dormitory supervisor Gerald Moran was convicted of 12 counts of sexual abuse for offenses that took place about 40 years earlier.
“We heard of terrible implications that need further work to further understand,” Schaepe explained, “including a story of firemen responding to a fire at the old St. Mary’s girls’ dormitory and finding the remains of fetuses in the walls and, as is being told in experiences in other institutions, that furnaces were used for cremation purposes.”
A memorial house post by Terry Horne stands outside of the former St. Mary’s Indian Residential School. Photo by Cara McKenna
OMI claim to have no documents: researcher
Jimmie said the team wants to know more about the operations of the institutions and has been seeking out information but has been blocked from accessing certain records.
Some of the documents so far received — which are still being analyzed — have come from the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, the Royal BC Museum, provincial archives, the United Church and the Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver.
The Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI), a Catholic order of missionary priests, operated the St. Mary’s “school” and more than 50 others across the country.
“When we’ve had direct conversations with their chief administrative officer, they claim they no longer have any documents relevant to our work,” Jimmie said.
“They also have not been willing to facilitate direct conversations with the oblate fathers who may have direct knowledge of the operations of St. Mary’s.”
Jimmie said this lack of support from OMI has been contrary to public announcements about wanting to support survivors and their communities, and called on them to reach out to establish a direct relationship.
Shaepe said continually being redirected by OMI brings up questions about which documents and other information they do have in their custody.
“And why would they make a decision about documents that they would hold in their administrative archives and their administrative files that may be of interest to us?” he asked.
“But they’re not providing us access to even review. I think one of the things OMI needs to do is sit down with us and give us access to what records they actually have so we can determine for ourselves.”
A written statement from Ken Thorson from OMI Lacombe Canada to IndigiNews said the order was “deeply saddened” by the news from Stó:lō and expressed regret for the oblates’ role.
He said “any relevant records” from St. Mary’s “would be housed at the Royal British Columbia Museum and the Archives Deschâtelets in Richelieu.”
“We have an ongoing working relationship with both facilities and have provided them with funding to support their responses to requests from Indigenous researchers,” he said.
“It is my understanding that RBCM has been in contact with Stó:lō Nation directly to initiate the process of sharing digital records with them.”
Further, Thorson said, there is only one living oblate remaining who worked at St. Mary’s.
“We have not received any meeting requests on his behalf and he would not likely be capable of accepting such a request due to his advanced health situation,” he said.
However, Schaepe insisted that there must be knowledge that was transferred within the OMI order that is relevant to their work.
“There’s no living connection to the operation of the St. Mary’s grounds, whether it was the old grounds or the new grounds?” he asked.
“I think that’s another thing that they need to come forward and talk to us about. … At this point, they’ve not provided any connection to anybody, that history that knowledge basis should be, you know, a foundation for us gaining some additional information.”
A woman raises her hands to drummers who opened and closed the announcement on Sept. 21. Photo by Cara McKenna
Federal records also inaccessible
Meanwhile, Kostuchenko said she previously worked for the federal government doing residential “school” research, supporting settlement claims, but now cannot access these same archives.
“In my 14 years there I was one of hundreds of dedicated researchers who created a database that ultimately contained more than one million individual documents about these types of institutions all across Canada,” she said.
“These documents came from the Department of Indian Affairs files, from other federal departments, but also all of the religious organizations that were involved in running these institutions.”
Kostuchenko said this research involved noting “students” and staff members by name and recording information about child illnesses, deaths and sometimes abuse. She said having direct access to this archive would “vastly expedite” the team’s research, however they haven’t been able to.
IndigiNews reached out to the federal government for comment but did not receive a response before publication time.
Stó:lō Tribal Council Grand Chief Doug Kelly said the work is only the beginning, as researchers expect to continue the project for years to come. Photo by Cara McKenna
‘There was no accountability. None. There was no justice.’
Stó:lō Tribal Council Grand Chief Doug Kelly said the research, which is just at the very beginning, represents “a journey to confirming the truth that we carry in our DNA.”
“Our people are carrying incredible pain that was inflicted upon them by removal from their home, from their parents, their grandparents, their families, and being placed in residential schools,” he said.
“Where there was no oversight to keep those children safe. Where there was no oversight to ensure they were provided adequate food, warmth, shelter.”
He added that “there was no accountability. None. There was no justice.”
Cyril Pierre of Katzie First Nation, a survivor of St. Mary’s, said he feels that the preliminary results validate the experience he and others went through in residential “schools.”
“The hurt and pain the generations have faced is now coming to the surface, and this is a part of the truth that Canada must face,” he said in a statement.
“This is our truth. There is now justice for the Elders that have passed and the little baby ancestors that have been found. We are now able to properly give the babies that were found a send off in our sacred ways.
“This is just the beginning of our process; we are far from a full pledge to healing as so many have been hurt. But this is the first step. A step into strengthening our relationships and building a better world for our future generations.”
Support for survivors and their families is available. Call 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.
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In photos: Dozens rally at B.C. Legislature to demand ‘Winnipeg’ landfill search
Content warning: This story contains details about “Canada’s” genocidal epidemic of MMIWG2S+. Please look after your spirit and read with care.
Dozens of people gathered at the B.C. Legislature on Monday as part of a country-wide day of action calling for a search of a “Winnipeg” landfill and other facilities across the country where MMIWG2S+ could be located.
The event in “Victoria” was one of numerous rallies held across “Canada” on Sept. 18 as part of a newly-declared Day of Action to Search the Landfills.
Though the current push is to have the “Manitoba” government support a search of the Prairie Green landfill — where the bodies of Morgan Harris and Marcedes Myran are believed to be located — there are also calls to search the Brady Road landfill and any others that may contain the remains of missing Indigenous people given the extent of the MMIWG2S+ crisis.
At the events, people gathered in support of the families of Harris and Myran, who are believed to have been slain by a serial killer and left at the Prairie Green landfill north of “Winnipeg.”
“Indigenous women make up an alarming amount of homicides that are committed across Turtle Island,” said Wuskwi Sipihk woman Brandy Quill at the rally at the B.C. Legislature. “This lack of response from the government is continuing the cycle.”
Last month, Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson said her government would not search the Prairie Green landfill, citing safety reasons because of toxic chemicals that could harm workers.
“They said it is unsafe [to search the landfill] due to toxic waste,” said Tsartlip woman Priscilla Omulo, who organized the rally at the B.C. Legislature. “Well, I would like to say that the harmful and fatal toxic waste is anti-Indigenous racism, and that’s the foundation of the injustice of the MMIWG2S and their families.”
Jeremy Skibicki was charged with first-degree murders of Harris, 39, and Myran, 26, and two other Indigenous women — Rebecca Contois, a member of O-Chi-Chak-Ko-Sipi First Nation, and an unidentified woman who Indigenous leaders are calling Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe “Buffalo Woman.” Skibicki’s trial is scheduled for next year.
MMIWG2S+ advocate Monique May, who is an organizer with the annual Stolen Sisters Memorial March, said landfills have been searched for bodies in the past.
“I can list the landfills in Canada that have been searched,” she said. “The only difference between those searches and what’s happening in Winnipeg is the colour of skin.”
Dealing with political leaders and the bureaucratic process of recovering the Indigenous women has been tiring for the families who are mourning their relatives. “Give us those hazmat suits, and we will train ourselves if you will not retrieve our women, because I am sick of words,” said Morgan Harris’s daughter, Cambria Harris, last month.
Harris met with federal Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Gary Anandasangaree yesterday but walked out of the meeting, saying she felt disrespected and retraumatized when officials questioned the feasibility of the search. She expressed her view that political leaders aren’t taking the crisis seriously.
Dakota, a Cree, Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en Youth, and their stepfather Alex McCallum-Taylor, a Kwakwa̲ka̲’wakw and Nuu-chah-nulth artist, performer, and cook, joined the rally at the B.C. Legislature on Sept. 18.
“It is time for action,” said May. “We need to come together. Genocide is happening on our land. We are losing people every day. No family should have to go to a landfill to pay respects to their loved ones. That is cruel and inhumane. Let’s bring our sisters home.”
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Ahead of Orange Shirt Day, WLFN powwow dancers don orange regalia as ‘symbol of resilience’
Ahead of Orange Shirt Day, dancers at a Williams Lake powwow donned orange regalia to honour all the Indigenous children and families who have been impacted by residential “schools.”
The Orange Regalia Special took place as part of the second annual Speaking Our Truth Competition Pow Wow, which was hosted by Williams Lake First Nation (WLFN) in T’exelc from Sept. 8 to 10.
The special was introduced in the powwow’s inaugural year in 2022 alongside various other dance categories for all ages.
Addressing the crowd on the powwow’s second day, emcee Stan Isadore praised the group of dancers and their regalia.
“This colour that you see on the floor is a colour that is being honoured and represented as a symbol of resilience and a symbol of strength,” said Isadore.
“There are so many beautiful things that they will never take away from us, they can never take away from us.”
Dancers of all ages participated in the Orange Regalia special. Photo by Dionne Phillips
Orange Shirt Day — also recognized as the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation — takes place each year on Sept. 30.
It began after Phyllis (Jack) Webstad shared her story of her new orange shirt being taken from her on her first day of residential “school” in the early 1970s. The Orange Shirt Society is a non-profit organization that started in Williams Lake in Secwépemc Territory.
It’s through Webstad’s story that Orange Shirt Day came to be, taking place in September because it was around the time of year when children would historically be taken from their families and forced to attend residential “school.”
Kúkwpi7 Willie Sellars dances before the contest portion of the Orange Regalia special. Photo by Dionne Phillips
The Orange Regalia Special began with a solo dance from WLFN Kúkwpi7 Willie Sellars, as a drum beat pounded through the arbour, before the floor was opened to the rest of the dancers.
The group of about 30 dancers represented all ages — from young children in the Tiny Tot categories to Elders in the Golden Age categories. Various styles of dance were represented through this special as they all moved through the arbour during two songs.
From the larger group, the judges then picked the top six to continue dancing for the second song with one winner being chosen at the end of the two songs.
“And it’s evident here today, brothers and sisters, it’s evident here on the floor, you see all orange, you see the First Nations people with their language, their culture and every colour and design that they’re wearing is a story that stays with them for time immemorial,” Isadore said as applause filled the arbour for the dancers.
Isadore praised the dancers and their regalia as he told the crowd to witness, “the powerful colour of orange being honoured by powerful First Nations people.”
“We’re still here and we’re going to be here for many, many years to come,” Isadore said.
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