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