Residential school survivors attend emotional demolition ceremony

  • Mar. 3, 2015 7:00 p.m.

By Rhonda Lee McIsaacHaida Gwaii Observer With shouts of “Close that door!” piercing the air, a bulldozer ripped through the entryway of St. Michael’s Indian Residential School, bringing a symbolic end to a dark period for many west coast First Nations. Between 1929 and 1975 the now-weather worn four-storey red-brick building, in ‘Namgis territory at Cormorant Island near Alert Bay, housed up to 200 children at a time from west coast areas including: Haida Gwaii, Bella Bella, Bella Coola, Nisga’a territory, and northern Vancouver Island. On Feb. 18, a demolition ceremony was held ahead of the actual demolition for many former students, now Elders. A paxla, medicine man song was sung to open the I’tustolagalis – Rising up, Together.”Release the children!” a man cried as the excavator tore at the wooden archway and entrance to the school. The sounds of wailing and mournful cries could be heard as survivors were overcome with emotion.  Former students stood before the building holding their drums, wearing their regalia, and holding onto their loved ones as the excavator approached the entry way. Cheers and wails were heard as the first pieces of the dry wood fell to the ground. Many survivors and children or family members of survivors threw rocks at the brick building to break the windows that still stood up to time – until now. Drummers and singers could be heard over the breaking glass.  Prayers were said. Candles were lit. A moment of silence for children who never returned from the school were honoured.”St. Michael’s is a symbol and stark reminder of a dark chapter in our history,” said John Rustad, B.C. Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, in a release.This school closure adds poignancy to the 2012 Residential School Survivors pole, carved by the Raven clan’s Donnie Edenshaw, son of Cooper Wilson, which still stands in Old Massett. It was erected to honour those survivors who were taken from their families and kept away for years. To them, and all other survivors and their families, the representative of Anglican Church attended the ceremony to offer an apology. “I am humbled to be here today. I present a part of my heart that is heavy, that is dark,” said Anglican Diocese of British Columbia Bishop Logan McMenamie.”These children suffered physical, sexual, cultural abuse. On behalf of myself, I reiterate our apology to you.”We were wrong and we failed you.””I am sorry that we failed you. That we failed ourselves and that we failed the Creator,” he said. Chief Dr. Robert Joseph, Reconciliation Canada ambassador said, “It’s difficult to comprehend how people could treat other people the way they treated us,”.”This is such an historic moment for us. This building is a blight upon this land and a blight upon our consciousness,” he said.But, “it’s not all sadness,” he said. “People agree with us that we can build a new future together. You’re part of something great,” he told the crowd. “We can change the world. We are not alone anymore,” he said.”We’re not going to be victims forever. We’re going to heal and one day we will be free.”- with files from Kathy O’Reilly-Taylor

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