Prior to the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation Sept. 30, Semiahmoo First Nation Chief Harley Chappell said he wished to see an “orange sea” of support on White Rock’s waterfront.
That’s exactly what he got.
Thousands of people gathered Thursday to stand behind residential school survivors, Elders, youth, and Indigenous people.
The show of support, which came on Canada’s first National Truth and Reconciliation Day, will go down as a point of history on the pathway to reconciliation. But, as Chappell put it, the day did not signal the end, but rather a step forward.
During his opening remarks at Grand Chief Bernard Robert Charles Plaza, Chappell said he was shaking.
“I’m shaking in my heart,” Chappell said as he appeared to hold back a tear. “Seeing you here today – driving down the road and seeing all these orange shirts coming here, feeling the love and support.”
The crowd at the plaza was so vast that people in the back couldn’t hear the presentations, despite the use of a P.A. system. Some participants logged onto Facebook to watch a live stream so they could hear Chappell’s remarks.
Thousands of people followed residential school survivors on a walk from the plaza to SFN’s Spirit Stage in Semiahmoo Park.
Presentations continued at the stage, followed by songs and a moment of silence for, not only the 215 children who were found in unmarked graves at the Kamloops residential school, but for the 6,500 other Indigenous children who lie in unmarked graves across Canada.
Residential school survivor Barbara Calder was one of two survivors who were wrapped in a ceremonial blanket on the spirit stage.
She, too, voiced gratitude for the support from the community.
“It was just amazing to see all of the people in orange shirts – I’m just glad to see that, especially in this little town of White Rock,” Calder said.
Several times, Chappell told the gathering the words ‘thank you’ were not enough to express his gratitude for the large show of support.
To those who were unable to attend Thursday’s event, Chappell said they can support Indigenous people by taking a moment to read the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada report and calls for action.
“I think all of us as citizens (should) look at those calls for action, look to the legislation. We need to find ourselves in it. What can we do as a member of the community, Aboriginal or not. What can we do to better the relationship. That’s where we’re at right now,” Chappell said.
Indigenous people have wanted to work on a level playing field for generations, Chappell said, adding the atrocities committed to Indigenous people are just now starting to be acknowledged.
“And then how can we start moving to how do we heal. How do we walk side-by-side as equals here in this country, in our own homes.
“We’re all in this canoe together, we’ve just got to make sure we’re paddling in the same direction.”