Editor’s note: The story below may trigger difficult or traumatic thoughts and memories. The Indian Residential School Survivors Society’s 24-hour crisis line is available at 1-866-925-4419.
At 9 a.m., on October 3, 2021, Simpcw First Nation Chief Shelly Loring greeted over 75 people who had come together at the oval in Fadear Park, to participate and/or recognize walkers on their third day and final leg of Simpcw’s ‘We Will Walk For The Children’. Loring said they weren’t expecting the volume of people that had turned out, “But it is great to have the support”.
“We have been greeting each other in this way for the last two days,” said the Chief to the walkers, “Because we really truly are happy to see that you made it through the night. We’re so honoured to have our Elders, the residential school survivors, and all of the other people who are joining our circle. Our Elder William Pete prayed for each one of us, he prayed for those children that we are walking and bringing them home. This eagle staff that we are carrying was made specifically for this three day walk, and it was the result of a dream.”
The walkers originally set out on Oct. 1, starting at the Kamloops Residential School, and walking from The Dunes on Westsyde Road to the McLure Ferry. The following day they walked from the McLure Ferry to the Horse Corrals on Westsyde Road.
“Our first day of the walk was like today – sunny,” said Loring, “We were light, we were happy, we were laughing. Yesterday was a solemn day. We packed a lot of heaviness, a lot of emotions came out. We held a lot of ceremony. We made it as far as Black Pines. We bussed to Whispering Pines. Chief Mike LeBourdias is with us here today from Whispering Pines, where their community welcomed us. We were able to finish off with spiritual work to help everybody up.
“Yesterday we started at the McLure Ferry, and we walked to the horse corrals. And when we got to the horse corrals, the intent was to let those spirits of those who attended residential school and are still with us here today, those who attended residential school and have passed on, and those who attended residential school that lie in those graves. We allowed them, and we released them to go back into Mother Earth all the way around us.”
The Chief told how Skull Mountain was a sacred place, “There was ceremony sites, spiritual sites, hunting areas, berry picking areas, medicine areas.
”Now those children have had that opportunity to go back out onto the land – something that was taken from them. As we stood there doing ceremonies, you could hear them, across the big deep gullies on Skull Mountain. You could hear them talking – it gave me goosebumps!”
She then acknowledged one of their members who had attended residential school. He had approached the Chief and asked if he could place a drum in the middle of the group gathered at the oval, and she said yes.
“He said, ‘I can’t yet speak about it, I’m still on my journey’,” said Loring, “But he gave me permission to share.
She gave his name and said, “We see you. We honour you. We walk with you. We pray for you.”
She told how he and his brother had been taken to the Kamloops Residential School.
“One day they came together and they decided “we are done here – we’re going to leave.” And they came together in McLure,” said Loring, with a tremble in her voice, “They walked all that way to McLure.”
She explained when Simpcw were planning the walk, and setting out the areas that they would be going to, the name “McLure, McLure, McLure kept coming up”.
“So we wanted to make sure that we honoured that area,” told Loring, “And now I know why. Because two men, young boys, walked there, came back together, and came home. I raise my hand – that you are home.”
As the ceremony for the final leg of ‘We Will Walk For The Children’ got ready to start, Loring addressed all in attendance.
“We honour that not everybody does this spiritual way. We honour each and every one of you – the way that you do your healing – the way that you pray,” said Loring, “Nothing is ever pushed upon anybody. We honour today the individuals that will walk and lead us.”
She then passed a ceremonial wooden staff decorated with eagle feathers that she had been holding to Elder Rose Miller.
”With this eagle staff, Elder Rose will lead us out when we are done with the Honour Song and the start of the ceremony. We want all of the Elders to join with Rose, we want the residential school survivors to join with Rose, and she will start leading us home.”
Lanyards were handed out with mental health information and phone numbers in case anyone might need that help throughout the day, the night, or the days to come.
“That help is there for you,” said the Chief, “We’ve also brought on mental health team members to walk with us if you need them at any point in the day. They can walk with you, or you can ride in a vehicle with them.
Small orange coloured packages were then passed out to everyone at the gathering.
“We have handed out tobacco ties that were made at a health healing session in town,” said Loring, “Those tobacco ties you pack with you. When you are ready to release them and let them go, put them into the fast flowing water. We are also going to have a fire this afternoon, you can put them into the fire. Then you turn your back, and you walk away. You let that go. Don’t carry it with you. Anything that you want to put into your prayers into that tobacco – that’s what you have the opportunity to do today.
“As I told you, our children’s spirits are out on the land, now it is time to call them back with us so that we can bring them home on the last leg of our journey here,” said Loring.
The spirit calling song was then sung with drumming and whistles. All gathered around the park oval were encouraged to follow the traditions of the spirit calling song. To begin everyone turned their face to the west, then they turned to the north, then to the east, to the south, and finally back to the west. “
“All while acknowledging prayers to The Creator and then we’ll acknowledge Mother Earth.”
When the emotionally moving spirit calling song concluded, Elder Rose Miller moved out to stand with the eagle staff at the beginning of the pathway lined with maple trees in a full blaze of fall colours. Elders moved into position behind her, followed by the residential school survivors to begin making the final leg of their journey home.
Chief Loring stood beside the entrance to the pathway holding eagle feather fans in each of her hands up high in the air and over the people walking.
“I was holding those eagle feathers up in honour,” told Loring to this reporter after the event. “I was also waiting for every single person who was going to be walking to pass by, to insure that they were all brushed off in a good way so that they were all blessed with health and happiness, and safety and protection on their journey, and also pulling away any negativity, any hurt, any pain – giving it back to Mother Earth, and to the four directions. To never be seen or heard from again, never hurt, harm or injure anyone. I raised my arms and used those fans to fan everybody off and clean them up for the journey that they were embarking upon.”
Not all of the 75 gathered at Fadear Park joined in on the last leg of the three day ‘We Will Walk For The Children’ journey, but there was a considerable number who did. They left the park heading north on Barriere Town Road at approximately 9:30 a.m., and arrived at their destination in Chu Chua just over six hours later. In total over the three days the walkers traveled 53 kilometers. For intermittent periods a number of the Elders also participated in different areas of the walk, but not all of the Elders were able to join in the walk.
“We had a very healing moment when two of our Elders got out of one of the vehicles that were traveling with those walking,” told Loring the next day, “They wanted to get out at one of their childhood homes, and then walked approximately a kilometer to the ball park. That was her healing journey.
“She said to me, “When I reach mom’s house I am going to walk to the ball park. I need to do that for my closure and for my healing”.
“So we drummed them in. I joined them and I joined hands with them to help lift them up and carry them that last little leg of their journey. They were honoured by all of the attendees and it was a very emotional moment of healing, and to be witness to.”
Cheif Loring said they tried to get the word out about the walk as much as possible, then noted the overwhelming support they had experienced from the town of Barriere. She noted though that the event wasn’t really about getting the word out.
“The focus of our walk was our people – our residential school survivors that came home, those that have passed on, and those that did not return home. It was about them. Insuring that they had a safe place to come, to share, to walk, or to just be in their own space. That’s what the walk was about – it was about them.”
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