On June 2nd, 30 people gathered on the University of Victoria campus (plus another 65 online) with Coast Salish Elder Raymond Tony Charlie (Penelakut Tribe) to celebrate the publication of his new book, In the Shadow of the Red Brick Building (Askew Creek, 2022). In the book, Ray Tony shares his personal story as a residential school survivor and his journey to healing.
As a child, Ray Tony attended both Kuper Island residential school on Penelakut Island and St. Mary’s residential school in Mission, B.C. His book is one of several ways that he has patiently shared about his tragic experiences, ensuing struggles, and healing journey to help people understand what really happened at these institutions, and to support others in their own healing.
In addition to being an educator, artist, public speaker, and author, Ray Tony is a POLIS Advisor and Mentor and has generously spoken at POLIS events over the years. In a spirit of reciprocity, POLIS and the University of Victoria’s Centre for Global Studies (CFGS) have been supporting Ray Tony in modest ways over the last few years to bring his voice to a wider audience. The book launch was co-hosted by POLIS and CFGS.
Indigenous and non-Indigenous participants gathered in circle with Ray Tony and several members of his family to listen, witness, and join in the difficult learning about the shameful history of our country through Ray Tony’s personal experience.
The book launch opened with a welcome and prayer from University of Victoria Elder-in-Residence May Sam (Tsartlip Nation) and a blessing for Ray Tony and all those in attendance. CFGS Acting Director Martin Bunton and POLIS Co-Director Kelly Bannister also offered words to begin the event. Kelly explained how the POLIS and CFGS teams have gotten to know Ray Tony over the years in efforts to understand reconciliation and identify what it requires of us.
Penelakut Elder Florence James and her son Rocky James also shared opening words, and then the Elders blanketed Ray Tony to protect him as he spoke. They were at the event to stand with Ray Tony as relatives and offer cultural support.
“My mother, my grandmother Mary, and my grandmother Ellen would always share when I was growing up that your words can be medicine,” shared Rocky, who is Treaty Communications Coordinator for Penelakut Tribe and offers consulting services at Salish Social Policy Design and Practice. “Being here with all of you in person and online, I am so grateful for so many people standing with my uncle [Ray Tony] and helping him to fix his words to be medicine … You’re all here to help my uncle carry his story and to heal and to heal ourselves.”
Ray Tony then generously shared details of his personal story as a residential school survivor and the significant role that writing this memoir had on his path towards healing. He honoured his wife Lorraine Charlie and her ongoing support, and the support of friends and family. Ray Tony ended by reading a poem he wrote, which is included in his new book.
It’s ok open your eyes
Stand up and look around
Your friends are gone
And much of your family
With flashing memories in your mind
With beautiful thoughts of bygone days
We shared together laughter, tears
Good times and bad
They are gone into the spirit world
But remembered and deeply loved
Remain treasured in our hearts
They are no longer in pain
Not suffering today
They want you to be happy
Don’t be sad
Residential schools are gone
They no longer exist but in your heart
Breathe in and let it go
Heal your body and your mind
Find yourself and move on
As a proud First Nations person
Learn your history
Connections to the land and water
The sacred medicines
Your family need you and your people too
Grandchildren look up to you
Needing your love and support
Love yourself! As you are special
Elder Ray Tony Charlie concluded by stating, “I will keep sharing. I will keep standing. And I will keep using my voice.” The gathering was closed with a prayer and song by Elder May Sam.