TWU hosts prayer and remembrance ceremony for residential school victims
“The intention of our gathering today is for us to pray together, to learn and to listen. First steps for many. Learning how to walk together in a good way.”
— University Siya:m Patricia Victor
Trinity Western University, together with University Siya:m Patricia Victor and Indigenous elders from Haida Nation are hosting a series of remembrance vigils to honour victims of residential schools. The first two events took place on June 8, 2021 at the outdoor chapel at TWU’s Langley campus. Two more vigils to be hosted on June 10, 2021.
Songs and prayers in Halq’eméylem, the language of the Stó:lō people, sounded across Trinity Western’s Langley campus this week, as the TWU community met to remember and grieve the victims of Indian residential schools.
In light of the recent news of the remains of 215 children found at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, a series of prayer and remembrance vigils is being hosted by University Siya:m Patricia Victor together with TWU’s executive leadership team. The first of these ceremonies took place on Tuesday, June 8, 2021.
“The intention of our gathering today is for us to pray together, to learn and to listen,” Victor said during the first vigil. “First steps for many. Learning how to walk together in a good way.”
Victor is Stó:lō from Cheam First Nation. She is an ordained minister and serves as the Section Pastor of Aboriginal Ministries in the BC-Yukon district and the Coordinator of Aboriginal Ministries with the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada.
Victor opened the ceremony with songs in Halq’eméylem, the language of the Stó:lō nation. “It is a privilege to stand here today to worship God and to honour God with drum and with song, to sing in Halq’eméylem language,” she began.
Smallest TWU Library bell tower chime rings 215 times
Victor led the TWU community in a time of silence to remember the 215 children and to join the Indigenous community in mourning.
At the end of the silence, the TWU Library bell tower sounded out. The smallest bell chime rang 215 times, once for each child’s life. The largest chime rang once at the end, symbolizing an ongoing journey to recover and heal from the past.
“There is not one family all across turtle island who is not grieving this loss,” Victor said. “There is not one Indigenous community who is untouched by this devastating news. Our nation is mourning.”
Victor also invited Rev. Bruce Brown and his wife Adeline Brown to speak to the TWU community. The Browns are Haida from Haida Gwaii, and both are survivors of Indian residential schools. Rev. Brown and his wife have pastored at Vancouver Native Pentecostal Church for over 30 years. In addition, Adeline Brown is an art therapist who has worked for the Indian Residential School Survivors Society for over 15 years.
Following remarks by Rev. Bruce Brown and Adeline Brown, TWU’s executive leadership team addressed the Indigenous leaders in response.
TWU executive leadership acknowledge deep loss, express grief
Dr. Sonya Grypma, TWU Vice Provost of Leadership and Graduate Studies, is a long-time nurse and nursing historian. As a former outpost nurse who worked in a remote fly-in Indigenous community, Dr. Grypma said that she “bore witness to the pain and the brokenness associated with residential schools."
“No one in that village was unaffected,” she said of the emotional trauma caused by residential schools.
In response to the news of the unmarked graves discovered at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, Dr. Grypma said that she felt “horrified.”
“As an educator and administrator, I am sickened by the policy of aggressive assimilation, and by the grievous silence and silencing surrounding these deaths and unmarked graves. Standing here today as vice provost, I bear witness to your pain, and lament alongside of you. This is not how it should be.”
Dr. Bob Wood, TWU Provost, described the news as “heartbreaking” and “tragic.”
Addressing the Indigenous leaders at the prayer vigil, Dr. Wood said, “You and I have a common source of life, yet our lives have been very different. I lift my hands towards you in respect for the faithfulness you have shown through perseverance, and through obedience to Christ as you come to know him.”
“We have a duty to honour and remember the 215 Indigenous children who inhabited the Kamloops Indian Residential School,” said Dr. Mark Husbands, TWU President.
“As a Christian university we resolve to walk with our Indigenous brothers and sisters. We acknowledge that you have endured and are enduring great loss and grief. We recognize that the news of the abuse and death of children has been with you for many, many years, and now is confirmed.”
“As we learn to stand and walk with you, we promise to uphold you in prayer,” he continued. “We are so honoured to be on this journey with you.”
How Indigenous communities are remembering
Victor shared that since the news of the mass graves was made public, Indigenous leaders have gathered their people together to mourn. “Being together is strengthening and uplifting to the people,” she said.
Victor’s own church held a four-day time of remembrance. During this time, the community gathered to create space for elders to share their stories and speak words of encouragement.
“We gathered at the river, listened to songs and drum, received the prayers, and we were encouraged and strengthened once again,” she said.
Victor responds to people asking how they can help
In recent days and weeks, many people have written or sent text messages to Victor, asking what they can do to help or how to come alongside. Some of the ideas that Victor has shared in response include:
- Hold 215 minutes of personal silence to remember the 215 missing children.
- Have conversations with your own children and grandchildren about the 215 children whose lives were stolen.
- Have conversations with your colleagues, church and community about the history of colonization, which includes Indian residential schools, the Sixties Scoop, the reserve system, and the Indian Act.
- Contact a Member of Parliament to express support for implementing all of the Truth and Reconciliation calls to action, including those relating to missing children and burial information.
- Consider donating to organizations supporting residential school survivors, such as the Indian Residential Schools Survivors Society or the Legacy of Hope Foundation.
- If you are non-Indigenous, educate yourself and help educate others about the Indian residential school system. Take a look at documentaries such as “We Were Children,” books such as Pathways of Reconciliation, or read the Truth and Reconciliation blog and the final report.
- Discover and read Indigenous books and poetry for adults, youth and children.
Read this story in the Langley Advance Times.
See also—TWU remembers missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada on International Women's Day:
About Trinity Western University
Founded in 1962, Trinity Western University is Canada’s premier Christian liberal arts university dedicated to equipping students to establish meaningful connections between career, life, and the needs of the world. It is a fully accredited research institution offering liberal arts and sciences, as well as professional schools in business, nursing, education, human kinetics, graduate studies, and arts, media, and culture. It has four campuses and locations: Langley, Richmond-Lansdowne, Richmond-Minoru, and Ottawa. TWU emphasizes academic excellence, research, and student engagement in a vital faith community committed to forming leaders to have a transformational impact on culture. Learn more at www.twu.ca or follow us on Twitter @TrinityWestern, on Facebook and LinkedIn.
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