Donna Gabriel Robins spoke at an event to mark the opening of Langley’s new elementary school on Sept. 2, which is named after her. (Langley Advance Times files)

Donna Gabriel Robins spoke at an event to mark the opening of Langley’s new elementary school on Sept. 2, which is named after her. (Langley Advance Times files)

Year in Review: Indigenous reconciliation attempts sparked by grave discoveries

Langley lowered flags to half mast and held its first Truth and Reconciliation Day

Graves found on the site of a former Kamloops residential school ignited a conversation about Indigenous reconciliation that lasted through most of the year, including in Langley.

In May, an estimated 215 unmarked graves were found at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School site, now part of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation reserve, using ground-penetrating radar.

It was another reminder of the residential school system that saw 150,000 Indigenous children taken from their families between the 19th and late 20th centuries. The schools were the site of frequent physical and sexual abuse, and children were forbidden from speaking their Indigenous languages.

More discoveries of graves quickly followed at other school sites.

In early June, a vigil for residential school victims and survivors was held at Langley Township’s Derek Doubleday Arboretum.

Organized by the Lower Fraser Valley Aboriginal Society (LFVAS), the event included a walk through the arboretum and a ceremony.

Signs and information on reconciliation and residential schools were placed alongside the one-kilometre length of the path, along with 215 solar lights, one for each grave located on the former school site, said Katie Pearson, CEO of the LFVAS.

Interest in the vigil was high even before it began.

“Lots of tears,” Pearson said of reactions. “Lots of gratitude for having the opportunity to take part in a walk like this.”

There were serious debates across the country about how to commemorate Canada Day while acknowledging the harm done the first peoples in this country.

At Aldergrove’s annual parade, a special ceremony was held honouring Canada’s Indigenous heritage and multiculturalism.

At the opening of Donna Gabriel Robins Elementary in Willoughby on Sept. 2, the school’s namesake talked about her own family’s experiences with residential schools.

A lifelong educator, Robins spoke about how her mother was a survivor of a residential school, and how two aunts never returned from the schools.

“We never got to love them, hug them, none of that,” Robins said.

On Sept. 30, the first official National Day for Truth and Reconciliation was marked around Langley, including at the Langley Seniors Resource Centre, with a walk and the raising of an orange flag to half mast.

“We need another way of understanding respectful relationships with each other,” said Cecelia Reekie, an Indigenous educator.

The Indian Residential School Survivors Society’s 24-hour crisis line is available at 1-866-925-4419.

2021 Year in ReviewIndigenous reconcilliationLangley

 

215 miniature orange T-shirts – symbolic of commemorating residential school survivors – were planted in the arboretum in Langley on Friday, one for every grave located at the former Kamloops residential school. (Langley Advance Times files)

215 miniature orange T-shirts – symbolic of commemorating residential school survivors – were planted in the arboretum in Langley on Friday, one for every grave located at the former Kamloops residential school. (Langley Advance Times files)