Orange Shirt Day: The Hearts and Spirits of Our Children

Photo: The author’s grandmother, Slhu’muhw (rain) Edith Silvey

When my mother was in university studying the history of Indigenous people in Canada, I attended a talk by an author who created a chart of the generational effects of residential schools. As I was trying to place myself across the page into a certain category, I thought I was surely in the far-right side of the chart that listed 8th or 9th generation. However, to my surprise, I was in the second column to the left meaning I was second generation. And my journey of research began as I started asking some hard questions.      

I quickly learned that my grandmother attended the Kuper Island residential school. She was four years old when she was taken from her family. While she was there, she endured much of the brutal beatings that we often hear about. She left with permanent deformation in her hands due to being thrown down the stairs and not being permitted to see a doctor; along with the emotional trauma that would be passed down for generations.   

As the announcement of the unmarked graves started to unfold, I knew they would eventually reveal the number of children who were buried on Kuper Island. This hit close to home and the heart as I wondered how many of them are my family. How many of those little children were used to do government approved nutrition experiments, which ones were brutally beaten or were they all? How does one wrap their thinking around a small child who only knows one language suffering needles in the tongue? My heart sank with the confirmation of what elders have been telling us for generations. The unmarked graves that hold our aunties, uncles, and many others were finally being acknowledged.

Artwork: Grandmother by Satuts Stsuhwum Angela Marston

Despite the years of torture, my grandmother grew into a strong and powerful First Nations businesswoman. With five children and then her husband’s passing she instantly became a single mother. She ran an oyster lease during a time that it was illegal for Indigenous women to own or operate a business, but she did it anyways. She spoke five languages including Chinook, a trade language developed amongst businesspeople on the Coast. She will always be the definition of strength. It was her determination and her will to live that allows me to be here today.   

As we all take time to reflect on the horrific history and the meaning of Truth and Reconciliation, we look forward to building collaborative and meaningful relationships. As the original peoples of these lands, we take pause to honour and remember the children that survived and commemorate those who tragically did not.  

In our hearts we hold your memories, and we pray your spirits can finally rest in peace.   


In gratitude to Satuts Stsuhwum (North wind strong and clear) Angela Marston, guest blogger and Program Director of the Indigenous Business Award.

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