Can you imagine authorities demanding that you allow your children to be taken away to residential school or risk being put in jail? For over one hundred years, Aboriginal children across Canada were taken from their families and sent to residential schools to promote their assimilation into Canadian society and effectively remove them of their cultural teachings, identity and language. The children lost out on the love and nurturing of their parents and families, and many were physically, emotionally and sexually abused, and treated without respect. There are personal stories of hunger, life-threatening attempted escapes, and loneliness. Many children died or went missing, with their parents never knowing the details. The trauma inflicted upon these children by the government and churches is something that will take generations to heal from. Those children are now mothers, fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers that mourn the sadness and loss of their childhood and struggle with effects.
Sea Wolf Adventure guides, Mike Willie and K’odi Nelson, have brought many guests to Alert Bay, BC to experience local culture and learn about the history of the Kwakwaka’wakw people. As part of their tour, guests both young and old have stood in front of the run-down “St. Mike’s” building and listened to personal stories and description of this dark time. Many become emotional and offer apologies. Some are in disbelief. Young people have important questions about why this happened and what it was like. As guests walk towards the U’mista Culture Centre to experience the richness and vitality of local First Nations culture and people, the importance of telling our stories unfolds.
St. Michael’s residential school in Alert Bay will be demolished in the coming months. This week, a healing ceremony and gathering of residential school survivors from up and down the coast will take place at the site to mark an end of the physical structure. Standing together, residential school survivors will remember and continue to heal. It will take lifetimes to fully heal from the effects of this attempt to stamp out Aboriginal culture. Through the oral transmission of these stories, future citizens of this land will remember a lesson. The stories are ultimately about survival and the human spirit, and young people, like Mike Willie and K’odi, are now reaching out to reclaim and restore what was lost.
Thank you to all past and future Sea Wolf Adventures guests for listening and reflecting. We will continue to provide authentic educational experiences about the history of the Kwakwaka’wakw people, tailored to individuals and groups. Let us know what you would like to learn about or experience! Art. Traditional culture. Significant places. Teachings. Geography. History. Relationship to the land. Meaning of the Potlatch System. Regalia. Traditional Food.