On August 27, a dreamcatcher with a tiny orange beaded shirt in its center was placed at the Kamloops Indian Residential School monument. A note below the dreamcatcher said: ‘Made in honour of the residential schoolchildren who never returned home, by the Pathways Indigenous brothers at CSC Joyceville Minimum Institution.’
Dreamcatcher resting at the bottom of the monument with a note that reads "Made in honour of the residential schoolchildren who never returned home. By the Pathways Indigenous brothers at CSC Joyceville Minimum Institution Ontario, Canada. 2021"
The dreamcatcher was the result of a beading project Erin McCoy, Acting Indigenous Liaison Officer, introduced to the Indigenous offenders at Joyceville Institution Minimum. Erin saw an image of a beaded orange shirt online and thought teaching the men to bead was a good way to introduce them to an important cultural art. Elder Melissa Graber agreed that it also provided an opportunity for her to discuss the significance of orange shirts in representing the residential school system, which has impacted—and continues to impact—generations of people in Canadian Indigenous communities.
Fourteen offenders, eight of them in the Pathway Initiatives program, participated in the beading project and made tiny orange shirts and orange ribbons that were put on brooch pins.
Two of the tiny beaded shirts made into pins for staff to wear as reminders of the importance of truth and reconciliation.
Erin said the beading project was successful on many levels.
“It teaches the men how to bead. It teaches patience, dexterity. When they are beading things, they are also reflecting on the meaning of what they are beading,” says Erin. “Sometimes art undoes some of the chaos that is in our brains. It releases stress for the men. Doing cultural arts, some men will have to get up and leave cause they are crying. It touches them.”
Ralph is one of the participants who was deeply touched by the news of the discovery of Indigenous children’s graves at the Kamloops Indian Residential School site.
“I could really relate to what these children went through,” said Ralph whose grandparents had attended residential school. “It was something I felt I really needed to do to acknowledge the injustice against the children.”
Ralph made about 30 little orange shirt pins and ribbons and donated them to every female staff member to wear.
An example of the orange ribbons offenders beaded.
When Melissa mentioned she was going to Kamloops and would visit the former residential school to make an offering of tobacco and sweet grass, Ralph asked if she could take one of the beaded orange shirts with her. Melissa told him she would be honoured.
He created a two by three inch beaded orange shirt with a medicine wheel on it and suspended it inside an eight inch dreamcatcher for Melissa to place at the monument. He framed another orange shirt with barn board for her to present to the Shuswap First Nation band office near the residential school.
Melissa had the opportunity to give the framed shirt to the band chief, Roseanne Casimir, saying it was made, “Not just in honour of the children that didn’t come home, but all children—the Survivors of residential school and the trauma they and their families are going through.”
At the former residential school, Melissa laid her offerings at the monument.
“To stand on the steps of that residential school and the grounds, there’s no feeling like it,” she said. “It was very emotional, very powerful just to be standing on their soil with the mountains in the background.”
When Melissa returned from Kamloops, she reported back to the men.
“You could see the emotions in them and what it meant for them to show that they care. It was like it gave them a purpose to take a positive step forward themselves to be a better person than they were yesterday,” said Erin. “I would like to say it further motivated them on their journey.”
For Ralph, it was particularly meaningful.
“It made me feel really, really good,” he said. “It’s something that I feel I need to do to continue on my healing journey—to correct my past of making bad decisions.”
The monument at the Kamloops Indian Residential School where Melissa laid the beaded orange shirt dreamcatcher. The monument reads "Kamloops Indian Residential School Monument, 1893-1977 - This monument is dedicated to honor all survivors from the Secwepemc bands who attended the Kamloops Residential School; who all suffered the genocide period in the history of the Kamloops Indian Residential School; and to honor all survivors who are not with us today but are with us in spirit."