It has been four months since Lower Post held the ceremonial demolition of its former residential school. A few days later, the building was torn to the ground.
Deputy Chief of the Daylu Dena Council, Harlan Schilling, said June 30 was a day of celebration. While the backhoe ripped through the door, Schilling said he was standing next to elders and survivors.
“I noticed they were crying, but it wasn’t sad tears,” said Schilling. “It’s been in the past, they were tears of happiness. I’ve heard them say over and over again that the air is finally better.”
The former residential school was built in 1951 and closed on June 30, 1975. After its closure, the building acted as the Daylu Dena Council’s office space.
On Sept. 30, the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, residents of Lower Post burned the remains of the school.
“In our culture, burning, from what I’ve been taught by some of the Elders, is a way of purifying,” said Schilling.
Because of COVID-19, Schilling said there wasn’t going to be a grand ceremony. Instead, it was going to be a small ceremony for the residents of Lower Post to see the building gone.
“This is more personal for the people in Lower Post that had to stare at that building every single day,” said Schilling. “And then since we’ve moved forward they’ve had to stare at the mess.
“It means a lot to our community and it’s going to give people a chance to unwind and have it completely gone.”
Schilling said the community is going to take some time to decide what they’d like to put on the former site. The new multi-cultural centre will not be built on the former grounds.
A place for Kaska teachings
The residential school system, Schilling said, took away First Nations’ culture and languages. Lower Post is working on a new project to bring back the Kaska teachings.
“We are looking at purchasing Iron Creek Lodge which is on the Yukon side of the border,” said Schilling. “We’re looking to turn that into 100 per cent the opposite of what a residential school system was.”
Schilling said it will be a place for the Kaska to learn who they were and learn the culture, language and other dialects by working with Elders.
‘We need reconcili-action’
A project like this takes government to government partnerships and they take time, said Schilling.
But more importantly, Schilling is looking at the Government of Canada and the Catholic Church, for Lower Post specifically, to show the same ambition in building First Nations back as they did in tearing them down.
“We don’t need reconciliation, we need ‘reconcili-action,’” said Schilling.
“They took away who we are and I think the Canadian government should be doing this for all First Nations. (They should be) putting the time and effort and ambition that they did in tearing us apart, who we were as a people and put that same ambition their predecessors did back then into giving it back to us.”
Schilling believes “reconcili-action” needs to happen across the country because reconciliation is just words.
“We’ve heard words for years,” said Schilling. “It’s 2021, with UNDRIP, with things coming together, with First Nations coming together, I’m proud to say I’m Kaska, it would make me even prouder to say that I’m Canadian if this was done.”
UNDRIP is the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
The road ahead
Schilling believes there is a long way to go for reconciliation.
“I think the Government of Canada and the First Nations across Canada need come to an agreement to say ‘yes’ we are moving in the right direction,” said Schilling. “I think Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has a long way to go.”
Reconciliation efforts between the B.C. and Yukon governments have been better, said Schilling and that was seen on June 30.
“On that day, that we tore that down, it was three separate governments working together,” said Schilling. “In my eyes, that was one of the greatest things, a tri-level government working together to accomplish one main goal and that was to get rid of a building on the federal level.
“I believe there couldn’t be anything stronger than a provincial and territorial premier and a First Nation government coming together and telling them ‘this is what you have to do on a federal level.’”
Contact John Tonin at firstname.lastname@example.org