First Nations groups from B.C., Washington State hold cross-border ceremony after Kamloops discovery

Members of First Nations groups from both B.C. and Washington State gathered at the Peace Arch border crossing Saturday to hold a joint ceremony after the discovery of children’s remains at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.

The gathering was held on the United States side of Peace Arch Park, as the Canadian side remains closed. Typically, any Canadians entering that section of the park would be forced to quarantine for 14 days upon return, though RCMP officers present at the border gave some leeway. Mounties agreed to take photos of I.D. documents, like a driver’s license, and allowed Canadians to attend the ceremony and freely return over the border.

Around 100 people set up in the park for drumming, prayers and speeches.

Lawrence Solomon is the chairman of the Lummi Nation in Washington State. He says the gathering was important for nations on both sides of the border to “come together and support one another.”

“No words can express the deep grief we feel as Indigenous people,” Solomon told CTV News Vancouver. “My prayers are with the children and families affected by the residential school system. May the creator wrap you and love and bring you strength and healing.”

Celestine Camille is from the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation. Her mother attended the Kamloops residential school.

“I’ve always considered myself a second-generation survivor,” Camille said. “I consider these babies – I call them babies – as aunties and uncles that I haven’t met. They didn’t make it home.”

The ceremony comes amid growing calls for the Catholic Church to take responsibility for its part in the residential school system. On Saturday, Pope Francis met with two Canadian Cardinals at the Vatican.

Both the chief of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are calling for an apology from the pope.