The sun was shining on Cortes Island school Friday Sept 29, as the Parent Advisory Committee shared orange T-shirts with all the children. With a new principal, the team and students were busy all month preparing to observe the day of memorial by raising a Residential School Survivors’ flag. 

Klahoose Elders visited to share their lived experiences and share song, drumming, and hope. Sisters Rose Hanson and Jessie Louie, joined with singer Brenda Hanson.

A women wrapped in orange, sings and plays a drum, leading a group of children behind her.

Brenda Hanson, singing in ʔayʔaǰuθəm (Ayajuthem) with school children. Photo by Odette Auger.

The day was explained in advance, in age appropriate ways from kindergarten to Cortes Island Academy. For high school students, a week of online lunch and learns with the NCTR– shared the full history, along with exploring unconscious bias and debunking stereotypes. 

Michael Datura is the new principal, and he shared why this day was important to observe, and communicate. 

“As a principal, obviously the day I feel like needs to be observed, especially given the role that the education system has played in colonization,” Datura says. 

“I think it’s important for students to see the Canadian flag come down and be replaced if only for a moment, if just to acknowledge the role of the nation state in colonization and the continued oppression of indigenous peoples.”

A box of drums and a flag sit next to a tree.

Canadian flag taken down to recognize the role the government played. Photo by Odette Auger.

Erica Kohn, president of the school’s PAC, explained Datura had made connections months before he was on the clock as new principal, and how to do TRC day in a good way was at the top of his list.  

The Survivors’ flag was conceived during the summer of 2021, when discoveries of unmarked graves on the grounds of former residential schools sparked mourning explains the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.  It was designed by a group of survivors, and the meaning of the symbolism was explained to students before the flag was raised. Along with adults and children, seeds are visible on the lower part of the flag. “The seeds below the ground represent the children who did not come home. They were always there, but are now seen and searched for,” explains the NCTR website. 

An orange and white flag design with two adults and two children surrounded by motifs.

The IRS Survivors’ flag, created by Survivors as their expression of remembrance to share with the broader public. Image courtesy of National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.

The Elders led the drumming, with school children joining as the orange flag rose. Elder Jessie Louie shared the emotions running through her, and the impact of families feeling like strangers. 

“I never thought I’d see this day that I’d be speaking to all these children,” says Jessie.  “Wearing the Every Child Matters [t-shirts] to tell a bit of my story. It’s part of healing. Every time you speak of it, you kind of let a little bit of yourself go, the hurt that you feel, and that’s what I felt today. I kind of feel a bit of relief because the healing journey of the residential school is a long journey.”

An older woman smiles with a forest behind her.

Jessie Louie shares her experiences and hopes at Cortes Island School. Photo by Odette Auger.

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Odette Auger (Sagamok Anishnawbek) living on Klahoose territory, in the Salish Sea.