On Friday, Sept. 30, staff and students at both campuses joined with others across Canada to mark the third annual Orange Shirt Day. This is a day to remember the lasting legacy of pain and loss that has resulted from Canada’s residential school system. As we pause to remember, we also renew our focus on reconciliation and healing. The degree of the damage can seem overwhelming; we are so thankful to know that God’s grace and healing is greater, and we pray for wisdom to know how to receive that grace and to become agents of His grace.
I had an incredible opportunity at the end of September to join with The University of Victoria Law Student Society for their annual Aboriginal Awareness Camp. This camp introduces Law students to aboriginal culture, including traditional practices and legal perspectives. This year’s camp was hosted by three First Nations from the Campbell River and Quadra Island area: Homalco, We Wai Kai and Wei Wai Kum First Nations.
We stayed in the Homalco community at the south end of Campbell River. I learned that the Homalco people were originally known as “People of fast running waters,” named after the turbulent waters around their original home of Bute Inlet. In the early 1900s, many of these people lived in a community called Church House in Bute Inlet. After the banning of potlatches (gift-giving ceremonies that were central to the communal economy of many First Nations) and the implementation of residential schools in the 1930s, it became impossible for the Homalco people to continue their way of life. By the early 1980s, Church House was completely deserted, and the Homalco people lived in Campbell River and on Cortez Island.
We were invited to their Big House in Campbell River for a full day of the Camp. James Quatell, an elder from the band, prepared a big fire for us. He told us about the Big House and how it is central to the people for governance and community. We were treated to drumming and singing from the three Nations, and they performed a beautiful dance for us. We heard many speakers from the three Nations that day, including Elders, lawyers, and a woman from the language program who has worked very hard to ensure their language is not lost. We were then treated to a big dinner. The next day, we travelled to Quadra Island to visit a cultural centre and to see some artifacts that have been repatriated after being taken from the people in the early 1900s when chiefs and elders were arrested for illegal potlatching. Later that night, a young boy taught us a dance called the Bear Dance. This moment (law students and a Christian school teacher learning a traditional dance from a First Nations boy) was a beautiful redemptive contrast to the terribly misguided government and residential-school efforts to remove culture from First Nations children.
I was profoundly moved by my experience at the Camp. I was planning on telling people that I went to law school (for a weekend), but instead I want to tell you about an incredibly rich culture that exists in the Pacific Northwest. Our hosts were so gracious; everyone we met genuinely honoured us in a way I have never before experienced. I certainly have a deepened respect for these people and a desire to do what I can to help with the restoration of a beautiful culture that was so nearly lost.
Lord, have mercy.