More than 100 people gathered at Kelowna’s Chevron Commercial Cardlock Saturday morning (June 5) to form one of three convoys that eventually headed towards the site of the former Kamloops Residential School.
The event was a display of solidarity for the 215 Indigenous children whose remains were recently discovered in an unmarked grave at that very site.
Mike Otto, a Kelowna-based independent truck driver and the head organizer for the We Stand for Solidarity Convoy 215+ group, said that nearly 400 trucks in total were participating in the event, with other convoys launching from Merrit and Williams Lake that same morning.
“This idea came up on Monday, after seeing the news about the Kamloops tragedy. I put the word out and within a matter of hours, we had a tremendous response,” said Otto. “I don’t know how many people emailed, called and texted. It’s just incredible.”
At the site of the Kelowna convoy start point, drivers wrote a variety of messages on their trucks, such as “Every Child Matters,” while some left children’s shoes on their dashboards and others covered their vehicles with orange handprints.
The Vernon School District deployed four busses at the launch of the Kelowna start point, while Central Okanagan School District issued one.
Otto said that he wasn’t expecting this response when he first shared the idea online.
“This all started with one post on Facebook. It just spread. It’s unbelievable, the amount of people and support we’re getting here today,” he said.
He added that he was compelled to organize the event to help give Indigenous people a voice and to raise awareness about the residential school system.
“We can’t sweep this under the rug anymore — something needs to be done. We need to call our government into action. Cut through all the red tape, make sure we hold the people that did this responsible, answer for their mistakes,” he said.
Going forward, he said that the plan is to host the convoy event every year during the first week of June.
“It’s just a horrific, horrific thing that has been done for many years to Indigenous people. I’m hoping today — by the looks of it — we’re going to get that point across,” he said.