The 7 Generations Steward Society had a surprise during a small ceremony they held last week to commemorate the 215 children found buried at the Kamloops Residential School.
“There was an ceremony downtown, but because it was during the day, a lot of people had to miss it,” said Cory Cliffe, founder of the society. “I talked to the board of directors with 7 Generations Steward Society and we agreed that something needed to happen down at the Spit. It didn’t need to be huge, but something needed to happen.”
The 7 Generation Steward Society was started by Cliffe earlier this year to help build the next generation of Indigenous environmental stewards, providing them with cultural and scientific knowledge to build a sense of ancestral responsibility and environmental protection.
The society organized a group of seven people, five singers and two youth, to hold a small ceremony in memory of those 215 children at Tyee Spit in Campbell River. They were joined by a crowd of people wishing to pay their respects and two Hereditary Chiefs. The singing started with a traditional prayer song, before going into a paddle song.
“Towards the end of the paddle song, somebody in the crowd started making the body motion of the killer whale. We thought that they were just feeling the spirit, but the next thing you know people were pulling out their cameras and going ‘Holy cow, look at that!’ We turned around and there were killer whales coming towards us,” Cliffe said.
“It was a beautiful thing. We went right into a celebration song with a bit of a faster beat and they came in right close to the shoreline and passed right behind us,” he added.
Cliffe said that he had spoken afterwards with some Elders and Chiefs, who requested the story be told, saying: “During the time of the great sickness, seven Kwakwakaʼwakw men stood on the shores of the Laichwiltach and sang praise to 215 children that were taken by residential school. During that time, our ancestors came in the form of the Killer Whale to carry that message across to the spirit world.”
To Cliffe, the ancestors coming in the form of killer whales told him that he and the 7 Generation Steward Society were doing the right thing.
“Naturally, I was really nervous leading up to it and I was kind of wondering ‘am I doing this appropriately?’ Once we’d seen the Killer Whales coming through, personally I felt a feeling of relief because our ancestors wouldn’t appear if we weren’t doing things in a good way,” he said. “That was really inspiring for me to see. It’s really motivational when things like that happen because we know that we’re on the right track to tracking down who we were and representing our people as we are now.”
Cliffe hopes to continue connecting with the community, especially with the possibility of more children being found at residential school site across the country.
“For the next 10 years here in Canada I think that almost monthly we’re going to be going through this same feeling of loss as more of these residential schools are hit with the ground penetrating radar,” he said. “There’s going to be a lot of pain. I’m glad that 7 Generation Steward Society had its beginning when it did. There’s going to be a lot of work to do in the community to help people heal. It’s a great opportunity to do some cultural sensitivity training.”
National Indian Residential School Crisis Line is available 24 hours a day at 1-866-925-4419.