by Sarah Taguiam
A sea of people that organizers estimated at 70,000 braved pouring rain and chanted their way through downtown Vancouver on Sunday in Canada’s first reconciliation walk.
“It’s amazing ... that so many people came out in spite of the rain to show their commitment to reconciliation and creating a new society that embraces all of us,” said Reconciliation Canada executive director Karen Joseph.
The four-kilometre walk from Queen Elizabeth Theatre to Coast Salish lands near Science World was the finalé of a weeklong Truth and Reconciliation event in which First Nations people strove to move past their treatment in Canada’s residential schools.
Organizers expected 50,000 people to attend the event, but said they were pleasantly surprised to see 20,000 more.
Some members of Aboriginal nations bands across Canada, such as the Squamish, Musqueam and Gitxsan nations, wore traditional patterned tunics, while others struck their drums and sang spiritual songs to commemorate residential school survivors.
But survivors and their relatives weren’t the only ones present.
Bernice King, daughter of American civil rights hero Martin Luther King Jr., delivered an impassioned speech in which she called the past treatment of First Nations people appalling.
“Struggle is a never-ending process and freedom is never really won, you earn it and you win it in every generation,” King said in front of a cheering crowd.
“But non-violence is the only way. It allows you to aim against oppression but not against the oppressor because ... hate will destroy the hater more than the hated.”
Members of different cultural communities from around B.C. attended the event to show their support.
“Thousands of people from all walks of life, from every colour and every culture, are all here as Canadians to share the First Nation people’s pain and healing,” said Navnit Singh, a survivor of the 1984 Sikh massacre in New Delhi.
Residential schools ran for more than a century in Canada under the belief that Aboriginal children should learn Canadian customs to assimilate into mainstream society.
The federal government and churches have apologized for the abuse and the depressing conditions students suffered in residential schools.
About 75,000 past residential school students have also received financial compensation as a part of Canada’s attempt to address its past policies.
Following the event, Joseph said Reconciliation Canada will continue its dialogue workshops across the country.
She added that in B.C., they’ll be working to build dialogue workshops in cities after the Union of B.C. Municipalities recently proclaimed 2013 as the Year of Reconciliation.
King said that steps like these are important in empowering people, but First Nations members must stay strong in their struggle to create a better future.
“Walk together, children, don’t you get weary,” King said, quoting the lyrics of a traditional spiritual.
“Struggle together, hold on together, don’t you get weary.
“And one day, you’ll be able to join hands and say ... free at last, free at last.”