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.
The unmarked and shallow graves of 40 children have been identified near the former St. Augustine’s residential “school,” according to the shíshálh Nation which announced the findings today.
Part of an ongoing archeology project with the University of Saskatchewan, researchers launched a formal investigation of the institution early last year — an effort which has included scanning with ground-penetrating radar.
Chief yalxwemult’ Lenora Joe said that the GPR has sadly revealed what appear to be “shallow graves, only large enough for the young bodies to lay in a fetal position.”
The findings were made on or near the grounds of the “school” after survivors told researchers where to look, according to the team, and there are still more areas to be scanned.
As Joe revealed the news in a video announcement — while other community leaders sat behind her in the community’s longhouse — her voice wavered.
She revealed the project has shaken her “to the core,” however, she said it’s important to share the findings.
“We have heard from our Elders that we must tell the truth about what happened to our people,” said Joe.
“These children were our aunties, they were our uncles, they were our future leaders that we never met. They never grew up. And decades later they are still lost children.”
Run by the Catholic Church and “Canada,” the St. Augustine’s Indian Residential School operated on and off in “Sechelt” between 1904 and 1975. During this time period, the institution burned down twice, according to shíshálh.
‘We strongly believe there are many more’
The shíshálh Archeological Research Project has involved consultation with survivors and historical research as well as scanning.
Terry Clark, an associate professor at the University of Saskatchewan, said he believes the number of identified graves will continue to grow as more work is done.
While GPR was used to identify the 40 unmarked burials, researchers also utilized survivor accounts and historical research to ensure accuracy. Because the site is located in a central area of town, the grounds have been affected by development.
“This is a very conservative number,” Clark said in a statement. “Through all aspects of the research, we strongly believe there are many more.”
According to shíshálh, survivors have shared disturbing stories about being forced to dig graves and bury their own friends and relatives. They also spoke about the disposal of children’s remains “that did not include burial” which happened during their time at the institution.
The nation said children from 51 First Nations other than shíshálh, from as far as “Saskatchewan,” were sent to the “school” and many have known of missing children.
In 2018, several nations came together to hold ceremony at the site of the former institution in “Sechelt” for all the children who never made it home as well as survivors.
The reason why some children were sent from nations as far as the prairies, Joe said, was because they stood up for themselves and ran away from residential “schools” closer to home — so they were sent even farther away from their families.
“The firsthand accounts and experiences of survivors are the most sacred, accurate, and honoured parts of this research,” Joe said.
“We have always known our children were missing. This is not news to us.”
The shíshálh Nation announced results from its investigation into the former St. Augustine’s residential “school” with a video on April 20. Screenshot from Vimeo
‘An important time of reckoning for Canada’
The shíshálh Nation released information about the findings through a series of written releases and videos — and is otherwise asking for privacy and time to heal. The next phase of its investigation is still in the planning stage.
“This is a very challenging time for all the survivors who attended the institution, families of students, and communities, and for the shíshálh Nation,” said a statement from chief and council.
“Our focus throughout the upcoming community meetings will be on supporting survivors, community members and staff through sacred ceremony and cultural practices.”
The nation, which is the latest to announce this type of finding, said this time has been “an important time of reckoning for Canada.”
“The truth is being heard by many settler Canadians in new ways, information Indigenous peoples have been telling Canadians for generations,” the statement from leadership said.
“It is a horrifying and devastating history that must be grappled with. … We must find a path towards truth, justice, and unity. This new path will require great change for all of us.”
Joe said she wants people to remember that, amid all of the news about residential “school” deaths, the findings are not just a number.
“Please do not normalize this,” Joe said.
“Allow our community to absorb and acknowledge what’s happened.”
In photos: Indigenous children and Youth take the spotlight at VIFW 2023
The future looked bright for the next generation at this year’s Vancouver Indigenous Fashion Week (VIFW), as children and Youth showcased their talents in modelling and design.
The event took place at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre over four nights last week — each with a different theme. VIFW is an annual event that began in 2017 as a way to promote and celebrate Indigenous fashion, arts and culture.
The third night on Nov. 22 had a theme of Indigenous Futures. After a territorial welcome, the lights dimmed and music vibrated the walls of the venue as Indigenous Youth from the Girls Who LEAP (Lead to Empower and Act with Purpose) program walked in their power on the runway.
As part of a mentorship program with VIFW, each girl designed and created their own shawl to showcase — embodying their hopes, dreams, and respective cultures. Their work was paired with the work of Nisg̱a’a designer Kevin Gosnell Designs.
Girls Who LEAP is a non-profit in “Vancouver” that provides leadership opportunities for Youth in the Downtown Eastside and Grandview Woodlands communities – both of which have a high population of urban Indigenous People. Photo by Aaron Hemens
Partnering with Indigenous models from Supernaturals Modelling, the Youth smiled, held back tears, and waved to their friends in the audience. Family members cheered for their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.
For Kailani, a Youth who participated in the LEAP program, being mentored to create a shawl for VIFW was a dream come true, and a way to honour her family and culture.
Kailani says she wanted to honour her name, which means sea and sky in Hawaiian, as the inspiration for her design. “I created a blue sun with red, yellow, orange and purple arrows mimicking the course of the sunset. The blue sun represents the meeting point of the sea and the sky,” says Kailani. Photo by Aaron Hemens
“I grew up seeing my aunt dance in her beautiful regalia,” said Kailani.
“My aunt Rebecca influences me especially because many designs are based around powwow culture.”
Kailani’s aunt is Kwakiutł, Dzawada’enuxw and Skwxwú7mesh designer Rebecca Baker-Grenier, who also showcased her clothing designs during VIFW. Another aunt of Kailani’s, Himalkas Pam Baker, also showcased her fashions.
Girls Who LEAP models show off their shawls on the runway. Photo by Aaron Hemens
The founder and artistic director of VIFW, Joleen Mitton, was in the audience, dancing and cheering for the Youth and their creations.
Her work in creating VIFW was recently featured in the short film Ancestral Threads, which premiered at HotDocs in 2023.
The behind the scenes look at how VIFW began, and all of the work that goes into curating a show, and the people Mitton has brought along with her.
The former international model, who is Cree, has deep roots in “Vancouver” mentoring Indigenous Youth. For Mitton, she credits her kokum for inspiring her to serve the community.
Joleen Mitton (front), the founder of VIFW, poses on the runway during the Girls Who LEAP finale. Photo by Aaron Hemens
Opening the show, Mitton wore a jumpsuit with the slogan “the future is Indigenous” on the back before changing looks later in the night.
“You’ve got to appreciate the outfit,” she said. “This was made by the Youth. They are our future.”
Angela Howe-Parrish of Choke Cherry Creek, who is Apsaalooke (Crow) and Amskapi Piikani (Blackfeet), shared her new Apsáalooke Collection, which featured vibrant colours, geometric patterns and Elk tooth prints. Photo by Aaron Hemens
Owen Unruh, a Two-Spirit Cree model, dancer and content creator, in Choke Cherry Creek Designs. Photo by Aaron Hemens
During a showcase for the Heiltsuk-owned streetwear brand HSTRYMKRS, models wearing jerseys, cargos and statement-making jewelry by Copper Canoe Woman danced to hip hop music and hyped up the crowd as they walked the runway, prompting loud cheers.
Fashion Brand HSTRYMKRS shared spray paint designs that read “Young Matriarch” and “The Youth are the Future.” Photo by Aaron Hemens
The cheers became louder as a model wearing a graffiti-painted gown emblazoned with the words “The Youth are Sacred” and “The Youth are the Future” walked out with three children who wore shirts with the slogans “Youth Matriarch.”
A model with HSTRYMKRS poses on the runway in front of cheerful audience members. Photo by Aaron Hemens
“How many more times am I going to cry tonight?” said the event’s host Kiefer Collison, after the showcase was over. “That was absolutely beautiful.”
A spectator raises their fist in the air in solidarity with HSTRYMKRS models. Photo by Aaron Hemens
The themes for the other nights of VIFW were the opening Red Dress Event, All My Relations and Spirit of the West Coast.
“My people, you are so beautiful and so strong,” said Rueben George of Tsleil-Waututh Nation, who gave a territorial welcome with his children Cedar and Kayah.
“This is a celebration, because how we look is to the future.”
The show was opened by Rueben George of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation (TWN) and his children Cedar and Kayah. “We’re taking it back,” says George. “This is a presentation of our future, of who we are.” Photo by Aaron Hemens
With files from Aaron Hemens and Cara McKenna
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SD67 career fair connects Indigenous students with professional mentors
During a career fair in “Penticton” last week, Indigenous secondary school students heard from 26 mentors working in different industries — giving the Youth an opportunity to learn about various professional pathways.
The event was the first-ever Indigenous Career Fair held by School District 67’s (SD67) Indigenous Parent Group, planned in collaboration with the district’s Indigenous Education Program and held at Princess Margaret Secondary School.
It aimed to bridge the gap between post-secondary aspirations and alternative career paths, and set Indigenous Youth up for success after high school.
The Youth learned about various industries from professionals including water technicians, Youth and family workers, teachers, artists and more.
Along with covering the event as a journalist on Nov. 16, I also represented my industry as a mentor, talking to the Youth in Grades 8 to 12 about my career as a freelance storyteller contributing to IndigiNews and Global Okanagan. I shared with them what it means to me to tell these impactful stories as a member of Penticton Indian Band (PIB).
Another of the mentors, Whitney Cardenas, is also a member of PIB and works for the nation’s fire department. She told me that before she became a firefighter, attended a similar career fair to explore different job paths.
Now, she is eager to encourage the next generation of Indigenous Youth who are trying to decide which career path to choose.
“I’m pretty proud of myself to be named as one of the Indigenous role models, and I’m excited to talk to the Youth and tell them why I do what I do,” said Cardenas.
“I’m here to help encourage them to know that there are options out there and how easy it is to get into these careers and how they can make a living.”
Students at SD67’s Indigenous Career Fair at Princess Margaret Secondary School on Nov 16. Photo by Athena Bonneau
As a mother of two young children, Cardenas shared her passion for building a sense of community, emphasizing the importance of involving youth in trades for real-world experience.
“I never saw myself in this position with the fire brigade but I love it. I feel it’s something that I’m going to continue doing for a long while,” said Cardenas.
Cardenas encouraged Youth who may be interested in the trades to “come as you are and experience it firsthand” — embodying the inclusive and supportive spirit at the heart of the Indigenous Career Fair.
Dustin Hyde, the District Principal of Indigenous Education and Equity for SD67, highlighted the importance of broad representation of Indigenous workers across different sectors at the event.
“There was a parent who said, ‘my daughter wants to study medicine’ and it would be wonderful if there was an Indigenous doctor here,” said Hyde, who is Métis.
“We plan to broaden our role models next year and the hope and the dream would be that we just continue to offer more opportunities.”
Christy Tiessen, a member of the Indigenous Parent Group and organizer of the Career Fair, said the group will continue to meet monthly to find different ways to encourage Indigenous youth to see themselves in different career paths aside from only the traditional university route.
“If one kid walked out of here tonight and says, ‘I know what I want to do, that’s what I’m going to do’ and now they have a passion to move forward — that’s the goal,” said Tiessen.
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For 18-year-old syilx basketball star, sports and mental health intersect
Just down the road from where sk’ik’aycin Peter Waardenburg Jr. grew up is one of his favourite safe spaces — the Westbank First Nation’s (WFN) basketball court.
The sport is more than just a means of keeping active or staying connected with his community — it’s his go-to coping mechanism to help navigate whatever challenges may present themselves.
So whenever he needs to clear his mind and ground himself, the 18-year-old will head to outdoor facility in syilx homelands and spend time shooting hoops.
“Whenever I feel down or need to feel motivated, I’ll come out,” says Waardenburg Jr., who is a member of Lower Similkameen Indian Band.
“It allows me to get away from whatever I need, to create a space for myself.”
Waardenburg Jr. was raised by a community of basketball players. His family started Syilx Basketball long before he was born — some of his earliest memories are of him watching his older brother Treyton, his older cousins and his dad play.
In addition to Treyton, his favourites included local Syilx Basketball league legends Jesse Vissia and Skye Terbasket, with his mom even gifting him a poster of the latter for Christmas one year.
“I always liked to watch and analyze more than I liked to play when I was younger. I was a little shy,” he recalled.
But Waardenburg Jr. was playing ball by the time he was five years old. Throughout his 13-year career, he’s generally played the point guard position, sometimes switching to shooting guard if needed.
At one point, he also played competitive baseball, where his time as a pitcher taught him patience and how to keep himself calm.
“That helped me later on with basketball: being a point guard and calm on the floor, kind of leading,” he said.
Basketball has introduced him to a new world of different clubs, tournaments and communities throughout North America — he’s played with the Jr. Heat Boys Basketball Club, Okanagan Valley Elite, GW Hoops, the Similkameen Men’s team, and Syilx Basketball for both the Junior and regular All Native Basketball tournaments.
He’s also represented Team BC twice in the North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) — first in 2017, where the team placed second, and this past spring, where he was the starting point guard for the team, who finished third.
In 2022, he was part of the Syilx Basketball team that won the All Native Youth Basketball Tournament, which also saw him earn the MVP award. He competed again in this year’s Junior All Native, where he was the top scorer and was named an all-star, helping his team place second.
“Basketball allowed me to stay connected, especially to culture. With the All Native and with the Junior All Native, it brings you towards different tribes and bands,” he said.
A special highlight in his career was when he played with his older brother and his younger brother on a Men’s Similkameen Basketball team that his dad coached.
“When you’re surrounded by friends and family, and they’re playing basketball, it just makes you realize how much you’re loved,” he said.
This past August, Waardenburg Jr. was named as one of three syilx Okanagan recent high school graduates to receive a Syilx Siya Bursary Award from the Okanagan Nation Alliance (ONA), for demonstrating “a willingness to dream big for themselves, their Nation, their community, and/or their family.”
Applicants for the bursary award were tasked with writing about overcoming a difficult moment in their lives. In his application, he wrote about losing his cousins to mental health challenges and how sports — basketball in particular — helped him cope.
“I definitely believe sports help with mental health. I’ve seen it help me through the roughest times,” said Waardenburg Jr., who graduated from Mount Boucherie Secondary School.
He said while opening up about loss was difficult, he has worked through many of the emotions involved with the grieving process.
“My two bros that I lost, they played a lot of basketball. I grew up playing with them,” he said.
Now, he is working his way through his first-year studies at Okanagan College’s business administration program. Waardenburg Jr. said he’s keen on promoting Indigenous sports more — he said he’d like to teach and coach other Indigenous Youth someday.
Speaking from his own experience, he encouraged those struggling with mental health to try and pick up a sport because you never know who you’ll meet that may help you down the road.
“It can also just make you realize that there’s more to life,” he said.
“Honestly, it could save someone.”
The post For 18-year-old syilx basketball star, sports and mental health intersect appeared first on IndigiNews.
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