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Residential school survivors in Cariboo find comfort in quilts

100 MIle House quilters have donated over 100 quilts to people across the province

The local Quilts for Survivors branch presented their 100th quilt to a local residential school survivor at a smudging ceremony last month.

Canim Lake band member Cathy Harry is a survivor of the Kamloops Indian Residential School.

Her face lit up when she saw her quilt.

“I’m so happy to get it. This is a hard time, I just lost my husband,” she said. “I stayed with him in the hospital. This really helps.”

Stemete7uw’i Friendship Centre manager Murray Casey performed a welcoming song at the beginning of the ceremony to welcome those gathered to their territory. Following the welcome song, he performed the smudging.

“I’ll do an honour song for her after she’s accepted the quilt and we’ve wrapped it all around her. So we’ll do a traditional blanket offering to her where we’ll put it around her.”

Casey offered thanks to the Creator for the beautiful weather. He asked for two people to hold the quilt so he could smudge the front and back to ensure that all good feelings would come from the smudging.

“So what I’m offering the Creator thanks today is one of our traditional medicines, sage,” he said. “And then I’m just going to get this lit up and then we’ll come and smudge your blanket for you and send you off in a good way.”

He used an eagle feather gifted to the friendship centre to perform the smudging. Casey chose a corner with deliberation as he began smudging, explaining everything starts in the west and ends in the east. After the quilt was smudged it was carefully wrapped around Harry. He then did a smudge of Harry wrapped in the quilt.

As he prepared to sing the honour song, he said his assistant James Donnett would keep the smoke going, “so that anything that’s here, it will take all of our worries and all of our problems and stuff today. This blanket will go to a good home, she is going to be wrapped in like this and this is the Creator’s way of wrapping His arms around her and keeping her safe, especially right now with the things that you’re going through.”

A similar ceremony was held on May 6 in Williams Lake for more than 40 residential school survivors.

”Williams Lake First Nation (WLFN) had a Me7 Sít’sme ’ns (Blanket Ceremony) on May 6th to honour those that have come forward to tell their story. We were so thankful to be able to give out over 40 quilts that you put so much time, effort and love into. This is only the first Me7 Sít’sme ’ns that WLFN hosted, with more planned in the future,” said Dominique Melanson, Title & Rights Coordinator, Administrative Coordinator, St. Joseph’s Mission Investigation.

Lisa de Paoli and Faith Andre are the faces of the local Quilts for Survivors branch. On the last Monday of each month, the group of quilters gather at Andre’s shop, The Dancing Quilt, to work on the quilts.

Founded by Vanessa Genier, an Indigenous mother from Missianabie First Nation in Ontario, Quilts for Survivors believes that a quilt is love, sewn together to bring people together. The registered not-for-profit organization coordinates a nation-wide effort of volunteer quilters who contribute to gifting full-sized quilts to survivors of the residential school system. These quilts are a symbol of support, respect, and love, it notes on their website.

De Paoli said she got involved in the organization because we are all a part of history.

“Even though we weren’t there. How can you contribute? I have a love of quilting and this project brings that love and the love of the community of quilting together to be able to do something that is going to provide a little bit of comfort, a little bit of healing to residential school survivors,” she said. “I can’t even imagine the horrors they must have been through. It makes me feel like I can do something to make a difference in truth and reconciliation.”

Andre agreed, adding that for her the added part would be, “bringing colour and joy and creativity to the recipients.”

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Fiona Grisswell

About the Author: Fiona Grisswell

I graduated from the Writing and New Media Program at the College of New Caledonia in Prince George in 2004.
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