WARNING: This story contains distressing details
Hundreds of people have embarked on a trek along the South Thompson River from Kamloops to B.C.’s Shuswap, with the goal of reclaiming the spirits lost to the city’s former residential school.
On Friday morning, participants gathered at Pioneer Park in downtown Kamloops for the opening ceremony to kickstart Walking Our Spirits Home — a three-day walk organized by the Adams Lake Indian Band to hike the 64 kilometres to Chase, B.C.
Following the ceremony, Band Kukpi7 (Chief) Cliff Arnouse, other First Nation leaders and scores of walkers crossed the Red Bridge from the park to the other side of the river, then walked about four kilometres to the site of the former residential school, where, two weeks ago, preliminary findings from ground penetrating radar uncovered the remains of up to 215 children.
“There are a lot of lost spirits and souls, and … everyone that has been at the school has left a piece of them there,” Arnouse told Shelley Joyce, the host of CBC’s Daybreak Kamloops before the walk.
“We will begin the walk and we’ll ask our spirits to come with us, to come back to their families, back to their communities and be at peace once again,” he said.
Around noon, the crowd began to walk the 18 kilometres along Shuswap Road from the residential school to the Lafarge Bridge arriving at around 6 p.m. PT.
They will resume their journey at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday and on Sunday and expect to finish at the Adams Lake Indian Band gym in Chase, B.C., around noon Sunday.
During the walk, elders will conduct prayers and provide tobacco for participants to sprinkle over the river water — a ceremony meant to honour the spirits of the residential school children.
Arnouse said the walk is a healing process for Indigenous communities.
“When you start thinking about the atrocities and all the things that have gone on and the confirmation of finding the remains of at least 215 children at this time … it is hard, but we need to heal.
“We need to be able to unite and work together and become strong people,” he said.
Arnouse went to the Kamloops residential school, as did his mother and several family members.
He said he hopes the walk can also heal his past wounds.
“It will help me by remembering the ones that are there, the ones that didn’t make it home,” he said. “You got to open wounds a little bit to heal a little bit to let go of some of these.
“There’s going to be hope, going to be a better tomorrow.”
Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools, and those who are triggered by the latest reports.
The national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and others. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour line: 1-866-925-4419.