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Reconciliation totem-pole campaign begins

Reconciliation totem-pole campaign begins

Two Sunshine Coast elders appeared before the District of Sechelt Council on March 20 – Garry Feschuk, a former shíshálh chief and a hereditary chief, and Cam Reid, a former mayor of Sechelt. The pair were requesting support for a new reconciliation project.

Feschuk explained that the project is a follow-up to the residential school memorial that was unveiled in the fall of 2015. That monument stands in front of the shíshálh Nation’s health and social development building, near the site of the Indian Residential School that operated from 1912 to 1975.

Feschuk and Reid are co-chairing an organizing committee for a project that will invite the community to assist in the carving of a reconciliation totem pole and the weaving of reconciliation blankets. The kick-off event will be held on April 25 in the Longhouse.

Addressing Sechelt council, Feschuk said: “We’re hoping that, if the project goes ahead and we have your blessing, that one of these blankets will be hanging in your council chambers.” Calling the residential schools era “the saddest chapter in the history of the native people from across Canada,” Feschuk said that the project “will be a great start to reconcile our interests here with the greater community on the Sunshine Coast.”

The project has the approval of the Sechelt Band Council, and now organizers are approaching other local governments and the RCMP for their support. Feschuk specifically asked if the District of Sechelt would provide charitable tax receipts for donations.

Feschuk said that the reconciliation process is very personal for him. He is involved in a class action suit for residential school day scholars that was launched in 2012 by the Sechelt Indian Band and the Tk’emlups Indian Band (Kamloops).

“My brother-in-law was one of the main plaintiffs for the Sechelt Band and he passed away during the process because every time he had to tell the story he had a hard time recovering from his experiences,” said Feschuk.

“My wife is a survivor of the residential school and so when we lost our brother-in-law, I just made it my point that I would make sure I see this to the end.”

Council asked District staff to prepare a report on how to go forward, but in the meantime Acting Mayor Alice Lutes expressed the District’s support. And Councillor Noel Muller said that the unveiling of the residential school monument was an event he would never forget.

“I think … what you’re going to find is that when you put this out you’re going to need to expand the program because so many people are going to want to be a part of it. And I’m going to be one of the first people to sign up to be part of carving that totem pole,” said Muller.

Feschuk served as chief from 1993 to 2005 and 2008 to 2014, and also was a councillor for eight years. He resigned his position on the band council in 2016 following a stroke. Reid, a retired RCMP officer, served 12 years on the District of Sechelt Council, including six as mayor from 2002-2008.

Donna McMahon

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