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Confronting the past: touring a residential school

Posted on September 28, 2022

Journey to reconciliation

This summer, VCC Vice-President Academic David Wells visited St. Mary’s Residential School in Mission, B.C. The tour was organized by Stó:lō Tourism and led by Cultural Advisor/Historian Naxaxalhts’l Albert (Sunny) McHalsie as part of the Summer Cultural Experience series. Here, David shares his tour experience, connection to St. Mary’s, and his thoughts on the history of residential schools in Canada.

“As a person of Indigenous ancestry and someone who has worked with the urban Indigenous community, I understand the genocidal consequences and inter-generational trauma that occurred in residential schools. But it is one thing to know the history, it is another to have it intersect with my own history.”

“It was also an important opportunity to share this experience with my teenage daughter. She and I have had conversations in the past about the legacy of residential schools, but our conversations were more abstract and not grounded in place and space. She is not much older than I was when I lasted visited St. Mary’s. I think it was important for her to walk through the dorms that housed generations of Indigenous children that were taken from their communities and hear about what they lived through from knowledge keepers such as Sunny.”

Quote from David Wells

“I remember the gym. It’s been about 40 years since I was last there, but it still looks the same. St. Mary’s was still operating as a school during my time in high school and I played there as part of the Mission Junior Secondary School team competing in volleyball and basketball. As a visiting student, I was unaware of the trauma that the students at St. Mary’s were experiencing. I just remember playing volleyball and basketball against students who looked like me. I don’t know how to describe the emotions that this tour evoked, but I feel like it has helped ground and give context to the stories that have been shared with me in the past.”

“For me, this experience was grounding. It contextualized the trauma and destruction that the residential school system has caused Indigenous communities. So, as we approach our second National Day of Truth and Reconciliation, I want to encourage everyone to take the opportunity to listen and learn more about this part of our shared history by taking tours like those offered by Stó:lō Tourism.”

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