Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s Indigenous Services hosted a reconciliation flag raising ceremony on Sept. 7 in the Surrey campus courtyard to honour the survivors and victims of residential schools.
Faculty, leadership, and students watched as KPU President and Vice-Chancellor Alan Davis, Elder-in-Residence Lekeyten, and the daughter of Sylvia Simpson, a fourth-year fine arts student who designed the university’s orange T-shirt, raised the Survivors’ Flag.
Unveiled by the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation in 2021, the Survivors’ Flag is orange and features a design with nine different components, including a family and the Haudenosaunee tree of peace.
“[The flag] is the symbol of the importance of recognizing that true history that nobody really knew about, so that Canadian history,” says Gayle Bedard, associate vice-president of Indigenous leadership, innovation, and partnerships.
“My father attended Residential School, and my mother attended Indian Day School, so it’s heartfelt when you see non-Indigenous People supporting events such as this.”
Most attendees wore the T-shirt Simpson, who is of Haida and Cree ancestry, created. The shirts, which are available at KPU bookstores, have the graphic of a bear claw and salmon egg on the front with the words “Every Child Matters.”
“I thought about the families in the past who would defend their children like a mother bear, and how they would do it again if they had the chance,” Simpson said in a press release.
“The salmon egg also represents the resilience and the future of Indigenous peoples, starting with our children and grandchildren.”
Bedard says having an Indigenous student design the shirts “brings more meaning to the work that needs to be done.”
To celebrate the flag raising, the Wild Moccasin Dancers, a pow wow dance collective, performed and had attendees participate in different routines.
For Bedard, the performances were a significant part of the ceremony.
“It’s important to demonstrate that Indigenous People are still here,” she says. “Our culture is thriving, because a lot of people didn’t understand that at one point … it was illegal for Indigenous People to dance, to identify and show who they are. But now, in celebration, we are here. They didn’t do what was intended, so we’re very resilient, Indigenous Peoples.”
There were also booths with snacks and booklets on the calls to action from the national Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the xéʔelɬ KPU Pathway to Systemic Transformation Framework, a document that outlines KPU’s commitment to upholding the TRC’s calls to action.
This is the second year KPU raised a flag to reflect on residential schools and their impact on Indigenous communities. Bedard says while the flag came down a couple of days after last year’s ceremony, KPU raised it earlier this time and will have it up until the first week of October.
Bedard finds it’s important when people attend such an event and are fed as guests, they should not keep the messages they learned to themselves.
“[Oral storytelling] is witnessing an event, hearing the stories, hearing about the dances, and then going home tonight and sharing it with their families,” Bedard says.