Mon­u­ment marks tragic times

The Daily Courier - - OKANAGAN - By DALE BOYD

Memo­rial to vic­tims, sur­vivors of res­i­den­tial schools sits on same land where kids were bun­dled onto trains

PEN­TIC­TON — Jack Kruger’s eyes welled up Tues­day as he spoke on the ground where, as a boy, his life was for­ever changed as he was packed into a train car and sent to a res­i­den­tial school. It’s the same ground that now holds a mon­u­ment to com­mem­o­rate the Sy­ilx peo­ple like Kruger who sur­vived res­i­den­tial schools and hon­our those who did not make it back.

The mon­u­ment sits next to the Okana­gan Na­tion Al­liance fish hatch­ery on the Pen­tic­ton In­dian Re­serve, where train and cat­tle cars would pick up chil­dren, car­ry­ing them away from their fam­i­lies to res­i­den­tial schools.

Chil­dren were packed into a truck or train car like sar­dines, Kruger said, with no room to sit down and nowhere to go to the bath­room for hours at a time.

“Some of us were lucky we got the train. I re­mem­ber that first day at the train sta­tion. A lot of chil­dren were cry­ing say­ing, ‘Mommy, please don’t let me go. I’ll be good,’” Kruger re­called, tear­ing up.

“I re­mem­ber some of the kids in the train with me were against the glass scream­ing for their par­ents to come and get them out of there.” It was only the be­gin­ning. “That’s just the first day, that’s not even talk­ing about the sex­ual abuse, or even the chem­i­cal abuse. We were guinea pigs,” Kruger said, re­count­ing in­stances of med­i­cal ex­per­i­ments he wit­nessed and suf­fered through. For Kruger and many oth­ers, it’s a strug­gle that did not end with the clos­ing of the schools. He said it af­fects him to this day.

“Be­cause of the trauma, I learned… what re­silience was. That was our abil­ity to say, ‘No, we’re not go­ing to live on our knees, we’re go­ing to stand up on our feet,’” Kruger said.

The mon­u­ment, a metal sculp­ture de­pict­ing two par­ents and two chil­dren sep­a­rated from each other, was un­veiled at Tues­day’s cer­e­mony, with about 200 peo­ple in at­ten­dance. Songs were sung and a feast was held after­wards in a som­bre mo­ment of re­flec­tion on the past and a cel­e­bra­tion of re­silience and hope for the fu­ture.

Also in at­ten­dance were Grand Chief Ste­wart Phillip of the Okana­gan Na­tion Al­liance, Pen­tic­ton In­dian Band Chief Chad Eneas and the may­ors of mul­ti­ple sur­round­ing com­mu­ni­ties.

“We did not sur­ren­der, we did not give up our lan­guage. I want to thank our peo­ple. We now have a place where we can come and ac­knowl­edge those mo­ments, the peo­ple who did that for us,” Phillip said.

“It’s about re­sis­tance, our re­silience and it’s about our abil­ity to be who we were meant to be and walk arm in arm into our bright fu­ture.”

Vir­gil “Smoker” Marc­hand was com­mis­sioned to cre­ate the mon­u­ment. A sur­vivor of the res­i­den­tial school sys­tem him­self, Marc­hand said cre­at­ing the mon­u­ment was a deeply per­sonal process.

“I couldn’t un­der­stand why I was taken from some­one who loved me and taken to a place where they didn’t love me,” Marc­hand said.

DALE BOYD/Pen­tic­ton Her­ald

A mon­u­ment to sur­vivors and vic­tims of the res­i­den­tial school sys­tem was un­veiled Tues­day out­side the Okana­gan Na­tion Al­liance fish hatch­ery near Pen­tic­ton.


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