Vigil remembers lives lost in residential schools

The message is clear during the vigil. Left-right, are Allan Koski and Ann Koski, of Sucker Creek First Nation, and Gloria Comeau, of Joussard.

Richard Froese
South Peace News

Former students of Indian residential schools were remembered and honoured during a special memorial vigil June 8 in Joussard.

About 200 people gathered on the site of the former St. Bruno’s Mission that operated from 1913-1969.

“There’s lots of pain here,” says Elder Dustin Twin, of Swan River First Nation, as he shared about his experiences as a student at St. Bruno’s.

The vigil was held to remember 215 children, whose bodies were found buried on site at Kamloops Indian Residential School on June 1.

Joussard Community Association initiated the event as the custodian of the property, which is a historical site.

Lesser Slave Lake Indian Regional Council organized the event.

“We want to recognize all former Indian residential school students,” says Bobbi-Jo Laboucan, acting health director for the LSLIRC.

Twin opened the 40-minute vigil with a prayer.

“Pray for the children found in Kamloops and pray for survivors of residential schools,” Twin says.

“Pray that they find the children here.

“They have a right to go home.”

Twin says returning to the site of St. Bruno’s was a challenge.

“It’s hard coming up this road, it’s difficult,” Twin says.

“I want to be free from the pain.”

He also prayed for other former students who suffered in their time in residential schools that has affected their lives for decades.

“I wish you all strength so we can all get through this,” Twin says.

Former students of St. Bruno’s and other local residential schools were also acknowledged.

Hurts and emotions affected survivors and future generations in their families, communities.

It also created fear and anger in survivors.

Brenda Bush was a student at St. Bruno’s, she says, from 1960-1968.

“We were taken away at an early age to a mission with nuns and priests only.

“They were abusive emotionally, mentally and physically.”

Students were not allowed to speak their language.

“We weren’t allowed to speak to anyone or we’d get hit,” Bush says

“It’s hard to let go of something difficult that happened in the past.”

She says the discovery of the remains of 215 children in Kamloops opened up the wounds and memories.

“Peace and rest to all survivors and the ones who were lost,” Bush says.

Special moccasins were made by Grades 5-6 students at Joussard School.

Remembering the past of residential schools will continue in Joussard.

“We want to do this annually,” says Jeannette Willier, a director with the JCA, who has several relatives who attended residential schools.

“We want to honour those who have survived residential schools.”

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