On Sunday, August 15, 2021, over 200 people from Indigenous and Catholic communities gathered in the church hall at Our Lady of the Rosary for an evening of truth, reconciliation, healing, and affirming the path of friendship. Ha-Shilth-Sa, Canada's oldest First Nations newspaper, wrote an article about the gathering which you can read here: https://hashilthsa.com/news/2021-08-18/moving-forward-friendship-urban-ahousaht-group-hosts-healing-event-local-catholic.
This powerful and important evening will certainly be remembered by all who attended, but in an extra special way by the Indigenous and non-Indigenous people selected to act as official witnesses, with the duty of communicating the oral history of the occasion. Below, two couples from the Catholic community who agreed to take on this role share their stories:
We were humbled, and a little bit anxious, about being “witnesses” to the Truth, Reconciliation and Healing ceremony at our church. Members of the Nuu-Chah-Nulth and Ahousaht Nations came from great distances to attend. There were probably 200 or more people of all ages. Members of our church and St. Rose were called to stand behind Fr Dean as he acknowledged their pain and suffering, apologizing for the unthinkable horrors of the residential school losses, and offered that we would be there for them as they move forward in their healing.
Witnesses from 4 different parishes came forward and we learned that our responsibility is to carry forward the news of this night to future generations. We watched a re-creation of how children were snatched from their families with little more than 5 minutes notice, many never to see their families again. This was heartbreaking. We were wrapped in blankets to conclude our role of witnesses. We were treated to many songs and dances, sharing songs of joy, victory and sadness. It is our hope that our Church and all of us, can be a part in their healing journey.
-Barbara & Norman Arden
Tom and I were asked to be ‘Witnesses’ at the Truth, Reconciliation and Healing ceremony at Our Lady of the Rosary Church on August 15; although we really didn’t know what was involved we felt this was a tremendously important meeting and were honored to be asked. When we arrived the elders who were victims of the residential schools were being clothed in blankets as a sign of comforting and healing, it was very moving. After some song and dance performed by the various First Nation Communities, the ‘Witnesses’ were called upon to come forward and it was at this time the enormity of the request was revealed to us. During traditional ‘white’ ceremonies the witnesses are there to sign legal documents or to witness signatures that are submitted as proof of the event, however among the First Nations, it is the people, not documents, that are there to bear witness of the event. The witnesses are the sole individuals who have the responsibility to announce what they witnessed, there are no legal documents, no letters, nothing written, it is our truth as witnesses standing there taking everything in. Following the ceremony visitors from the various churches within the diocese joined Fr Dean who spoke very eloquently about the sorrow and remorse felt for the injustice and tragic events that occurred at the residential schools and how incomprehensible it was to imagine our child being taken away from us. It was at that time a single chair was placed before us at the front where we stood and one of the elders asked three of ‘our people’ to approach, one female to act as the mother, a male to be father and another to be the child to sit in the chair; it was heart wrenching as they re-enacted people coming to the door and telling the parents their child was being taken from them and there was nothing they could do, the 3 people with him would make sure of that. To say it hit home and put you in their shoes is a complete understatement, it was sickening to think such a horrendous thing could happen to anyone and the shame I felt echoed the sorrow and heartbreak. The truth is residential schools were real, the sorrow, the hurt, the anguish was/is real, it has affected generations of First Nations people and it may take generations to heal but with our help and support I pray reconciliation can and will happen.
-Tom & Carol Sweeney