Event Recap: Honouring Our Children

September 27, 2023

“Reconciliation is everyone’s responsibility. We need to learn, work, and
heal together.”  

On September 27, Education faculty, staff, and students united for Sacred Fire Talks, engaging in discussions, storytelling, and exercises with survivors of Indigenous Residential Schools as part of Indigenous Education Week, in advance of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

Jennie Blankinship, Manager of the Office of Indigenous Education, inaugurated the event by calling for "ReconciliAction" from participants. She recognized the deep-seated history and enduring impact of colonization, underscoring the imperative to collaborate and educate together to bring about change in both education and our communities.

Crystal Phillips, a survivor of St. Mary’s Indian Residential School in Mission, B.C., courageously shared her journey. She painted a vivid picture of her upbringing steeped in a vibrant, thriving culture, and the sense of security she felt until the day everything changed. Along with her younger sisters, she was taken to the residential school. Crystal poignantly described the loss of privacy, the profound isolation, and the dehumanizing treatment that characterized the institution—a place designed to break their spirits. 

As a member of a large family, Crystal also conveyed the enduring impact that residential schools had on her relatives, recounting the painful stories she heard from her parents as she sought to learn and uncover their experiences. Finally, Crystal emphasized the importance of learning and preserving various Indigenous languages to connect with elders, recommending the FirstVoices App, which encompasses over 100 languages, including every First Nations language in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, as well as many languages in the United States.

Chas Coutlee, through her work with the Indian Residential School Survivors Society and as an MMIWG2S Coordinator for the Vancouver Coastal Region, guided attendees through the Sacred Fire Exercise, demonstrating the ongoing impact residential schools have on communities and generations. This powerful, visual exercise vividly showed how the removal of children from a community affects its people—the mothers, the grandparents, and the fathers. Participants who assumed these roles shared a range of emotions, from confusion and sadness to emptiness.

The event concluded with an encouragement for everyone to share their languages and engage in song, drumming, and dance. It was a heartfelt gathering filled with tears, laughter, sorrow, pain, and heightened awareness.

Visit Indigenous Education Week with the Faculty of Education for more information and valuable resources.