Women's group sends comfort to residential school survivors

'They say it's just like having a hug'

A group of compassionate Kamloops women is hoping to lend comfort during emotional testimony at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Vancouver this week.

The St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church group members have been knitting prayer shawls that will be brought to Vancouver and handed out to victims and families impacted by the residential school system.

Wendy Adams, Armstrong's Presbyterian Church minister, is picking up the 19 shawls and affixing each with a message before delivering them.

The women prayed for the receivers while knitting the shawls.

Kay Mori, St. Andrew's women's missionary co-ordinator, said they bring comfort to the bereaved.

"They say it's just like having a hug," said Mori.

The Presbyterian Church in Canada has been involved in the truth and reconciliation movement since 1994 after confessing its role in the tragic legacy of Indian residential schools.

"The church is committed to walking with Aboriginal people on a journey toward reconciliation, and living out the spirit of the confession," states the Presbyterian Church in Canada website.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established as a result of the 2007 Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement - a class action agreement involving the Government of Canada, former students, churches, the Assembly of First Nations and other aboriginal groups.

The commission's mandate is to provide a platform for stories from residential school survivors who, for the 150 years the system was in place, were forcibly removed from their homes and often neglected and abused.

The commission was in Kamloops for two days last May as part of a lead-up to this week's national hearing in Vancouver.

The Kamloops Indian Residential School was operated by the Oblate Missionaries, a Roman Catholic order, from 1893 to 1977.

There have been allegations of sexual, physical and mental abuse of students who attended, and commission researchers have determined that at least 36 students died in early years.

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School district sends staff to hearings

School District 73 is sending four staff members to Thursday's national hearing in Vancouver of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The district principal and district co-ordinator of aboriginal education will attend the events as well as two teachers nominated by the Kamloops-Thompson Teachers Association.

Terry Sullivan, district superintendent, said staff would prepare a follow-up report with the aim of reducing gaps in education between aboriginal and non-aboriginal learners.

He said the district has long been a leader in working to close that gap.

"We were one of the first districts in the province to have an aboriginal enhancement agreement," he said.

B.C. Teachers Federation has earmarked $100,000 in grants to help teachers participate in the events. More than 4,200 students and 200 teachers and support staff are expected to participate Thursday in what the commission has labelled Education Day. UBC is suspending classes so its students can attend.

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