Skip to content

Langley schools flags raised a year after discovery of residential school graves

Still work ahead, say Indigenous leaders at ceremony
Kwantlen First Nation Chief Marilyn Gabriel spoke before a crowd of school district officials and First Nations elders on Tuesday, May 31. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance Times)

A century-old carving will stand in Langley School District’s board offices until a permanent house pole can be created as a memorial to children lost to residential schools across Canada.

At a ceremony on Tuesday, May 31, the chiefs of the Kwantlen First Nation and Semiahmoo First Nation spoke of honouring their elders and moving forward, as the district marked one year since the discovery of approximately 215 unmarked graves at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, on Tk’emlúps te Secwe̓pemc land.

Members of the school board, senior staff, RCMP, and others from the community came to take part and listen.

Flags have flown at half mast since May 31 last year, shortly after the discovery. At the end of the ceremony, flags were raised to full mast, but this is not the end of things for the school district or local First Nations.

Chief Harley Chappell of the Semiahmoo said that a conversation about the flags began last year, when the provincial government asked districts to raise them again.

The Langley School District instead kept them at half mast, and began consulting with the Matsqui, Katzie, Kwantlen, and Semiahmoo about next steps.

READ ALSO: Flags to be raised, permanent memorial for residential schools planned for Langley

Chappell said the question was how to raise the flags again while honouring the survivors, whom he called warriors.

“How do we do this in a good way, so when we drive by and see this, it’s not a sign of disrespect to the ones here?” Chappell said, indicating the gathered elders.

The district worked with the local First Nations for months and eventually decided to hold the ceremony and create a permanent memorial.

“Our first work today is honouring our residential school warriors,” said Chief Marilyn Gabriel of the Kwantlen, speaking before a group of elders and residential school survivors, along with relatives standing in for some elders who were unable to come to the ceremony.

“When we raise this flag again, it’s to wipe the tears away,” said Gabriel.

As part of Tuesday’s ceremony, the elders were brushed with cedar branches, to help them shed painful feelings.

The second work was the lending of the carving, which Gabriel said was an ancestor to the Kwantlen, to the district, until a permanent new carving can be created.

Wrapped in blankets, the carving was carried into the district offices, led by drummers, and placed just outside the chamber where the school board meets. Onlookers placed small lights around its base.

Finally, the flags were raised again at the school district offices. They will also be raised at other buildings around Langley.

“You have carried us for so long,” Gabriel said to the elders and senior relatives gathered for the ceremony.

She also placed important emphasis on the passing of knowledge on to future generations.

“We’re not here for ourselves,” she said. “Never for ourselves. We’re here for our children.”

The district’s ya:yestel (Aboriginal Education Advisory Board) will now continue working with local Indigenous nations to create a more permanent monument to residential school victims. When completed, it will be used as an educational site for students and staff in the district on the history of residential schools.

Have a story tip? Email:
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
Chief Marilyn Gabriel with a carving that will be loaned to the Langley School District until a permanent memorial to residential school victims and survivors can be created. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance Times)
The century-old carving loaned to the Langley School District was brought in wrapped in blankets. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance Times)
Elders were brushed with cedar branches to help them shed bad feelings, at a ceremony marking a year since flags were lowered to half mast at Langley schools in recognition of children who died at residential schools. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance Times)

Matthew Claxton

About the Author: Matthew Claxton

Raised in Langley, as a journalist today I focus on local politics, crime and homelessness.
Read more