Kamloops residential school survivors take their spirits back

By Adam Donnelly
September 22, 2017 - 3:12pm Updated: September 22, 2017 - 5:31pm

KAMLOOPS — Beginning in 1893, hundreds of Secwepemc children were forcibly removed from their homes, and taken to the Kamloops Indian Residential School. The school has been closed since 1977, but for many who survived their time there, the spiritual and emotional wounds still haven't healed. Today, survivors from the Upper Nicola Indian Band came back to the school as part of their healing journey, as they walk from Kamloops to back to their homes, hoping to bring back the part of them that was left behind.

For Upper Nicola Band Chief Harvey McLeod, coming back to the Kamloops Indian Residential School opens up a deep well of memories

“As survivors, we’re going to be calling the spirits of our loved ones and our families who have passed on, and bring them home, as well,” McLeod explained. “ I’m going to be carrying the spirit of my Dad, and my two sisters who have passed on. All three of them went to this school.”

McLeod is one of the Upper Nicola band’s 148 survivors of the residential school system, many of whom gathered outside of the old school house to remember and reflect, before beginning the journey home.

“When we left [the school], we didn’t take all of us home,” McLeod said. “A lot of our spirit was left here; the hurt, the pain, the loneliness, the anger… We went home, and we were lost at home. The event this weekend, the celebration - we will come here, collect our spirit, then go home.”

As many walkers left the school, they paused to call back their spirits, and the spirits of those who came before them. Walkers, runners, horseback riders, and a pair of canoes will help make the symbolic 100+ km journey from the school back to the Upper Nicola Reserve. When they arrive home this weekend, the survivors hope the healing can continue.

“Hopefully, today they’ll bring their spirits home and be the great and grand people that they can be,” Doreen Stirling, who attended the Kamloops Indian Residential School, said.

For Evelyn Antoine, coming back to the school she spent four years at is part of the process.

“This is part of our healing right now,” Antoine told CFJC Today. “I know I left part of my spirit here, and my brothers and sister also have. I’m here to call them home, as well.”

For McLeod, he hopes this event allows his family to heal, and move on from the trauma of the residential school.

“Never mind the hurt and the pain and the anger that came as a result of this school,” McLeod said. “Let’s have good memories from now on, so that our children, and our grandchildren, and our great-grandchildren have a better tomorrow.”

While these residential survivors can gain a measure of closure from this walk, it’s for future generations they’re taking these steps home.

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