On Wednesday, October 4, a new monument entitled ‡kamnin’tik (The Children) was unveiled at St. Eugene Resort.
Created by sculptor Cameron Douglas, it is the result of a commemoration project seven years in the making, designed to honour all the students who attended the St. Eugene Mission Residential School.
Douglas, whose brother Graeme works at the resort, was invited by friend Isaac Birdstone, descendant of legendary Chief Isadore, to work on a project commemorating all those who attended residential schools.
What began as a small group, they grew as the project went along and eventually became known as the Endurance Group. They followed the objectives of the Truth and Reconciliation initiative to redress the legacy of residential schools and advance the process of reconciliation.
“(The Children) embody the human values and strengths of the Ktunaxa people,” said Douglas, addressing the large crowd outside St. Eugene. “As we approach [the sculpture] we look up to the children with the former residential school behind them.
We look up to the children to honour and celebrate their courage, strength and resilience. As we approach the reflecting pool we lower our gaze, we see the children — around them open sky. We bow our heads to remember and honour those children lost to their families and communities.”
The event was hosted by St. Eugene CEO Barry Zwueste. “This monument will now stand before the building behind me to welcome everyone who has need to be here and remind them of the past,” he said.
“For if we forget or ignore the past, we have given our unstated approval for what transpired. St. Eugene stands ready to welcome a much brighter future, but we’ll always be respectful of the past and the people and the land we share.”
Ktunaxa elder Herman Alpine gave a moving speech, in which he talked about how his time at the residential school from 1949 to 1961 impacted his life, and in turn the lives of his children. He spoke of leaving his daughter when she was 12 to go on a healing journey in order to be able to return later in life.
“I had to straighten out this mind that was all twisted from things that happened to me, and today working for Child and Family, hopefully I’m giving back some of the things that I took away when I was raising my children.”
Also present to speak and unveil the monument was Order of Canada and Order of BC recipient, former St. Mary’s Indian Band chief and commissioner of British Columbia Treaty Commission Sophie Pierre.
“The story of residential schools, industrial schools in North America, because they weren’t just in Canada they were in the United States also, is a very sad part of our history,” said Pierre. “But that’s just it — it’s our history.”
Pierre said that when she first saw the prototype of the monument she was so affected by it she was moved to tears.
“I realized that yes it’s powerful,” she said. “It is powerful. And then I realized that it really is the story and our story that we’re telling.”
“Yes it was a negative part of our history, of our past. But what we chose to do with it, this beautiful hotel, this resort that we’ve built here — that is the next part of the story.”
Rather than tearing down the St. Eugene mission, as many other residential schools were, the St. Mary’s Band have transformed it into something that is both a positive thing for their community and a stark reminder of the history of Canada and of Canada’s Indigenous people.
The new monument is very much in keeping with that spirit. Zwueste announced that the day also marked the launch of a new First Nations experience program, but acknowledged that that wasn’t the focus of the day.
The program, produced by the Traditional Knowledge and Language sector of the Ktunaxa Nation Council, will see tourists welcomed to St. Eugene to learn about Ktunaxa history, culture and future.