Chief Dr. Robert Joseph was six years old when they came for him, but the story of his devastating residential school experience was not the main message he brought to Burnaby North Secondary students Tuesday.
His main message was about healing and reconciliation, and the personal role students can play in it by first grappling with their own identities.
“Reconciliation begins with you,” he said. “Don’t think you’re going to be a champion, coming in on a white horse and rescuing those people that need to be rescued. Start by rescuing yourself.”
The hereditary Gwawaenuk First Nation chief was at the school for A Day of Truth and Reconciliation, featuring speakers, storytellers, dancers and workshops aimed at raising student and staff awareness about residential schools.
The event – the first of its kind at the school – was organized by social studies teacher John Lekakis.
“We need to do these things to remind people, remind students that there were mistakes made in history, and we need to acknowledge them and acknowledge injustice and, as a group, as a community move forward and try to heal as a nation,” he said. “This is a shared history”
The event was aimed at grade 10 and 11 students who study residential school in socials class, and about 600 students gathered in one of the school’s gyms at the end of the day to hear Joseph speak.