Residents pay tribute to 215 Indigenous children found in Kamloops
Individuals and organizations have responded with ceremonies and gestures of solidarity across Oakville as news of the discovery of the remains of 215 children buried in a mass grave in Kamloops, B.C. flooded in.
In southeast Oakville, 215 orange ribbons appeared in the gardens of the Lighthouse Center for Grieving Children and 215 orange cutouts appeared in the road right-of-way in front of St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic High School. In downtown, children’s shoe assemblies appeared in front of the Oakville Museum and Oakville Public Library, while at City Hall, Canadian flags flew at half mast for a week. This week, the flags were still at half mast at the Siemens office in Oakville and at the Ford plant on the western outskirts of the city.
On Tuesday, June 1, a small healing ceremony was hosted by Grandmothers Voice, the grassroots organization founded in 2018 by Oakville resident Jody Harbor and Sherry Saevil, Indigenous Education Advisor for the Halton Catholic District School Board. Six Nations Elders led the ceremony at the group’s new Healing Garden in Milton, using dozens of children’s shoes collected in Oakville by two volunteers.
On the shores of Sixteen Mile Creek in North Oakville, another ceremony was hosted on Saturday, June 5 at 2:15 p.m. by Stephen Paquette, Indigenous Knowledge Officer for the Halton District School Board. Park staff hastily mowed a path to the water and dug a small clearing under the pedestrian bridge so the group could sing holy songs that could help the children’s spirits travel peacefully to the spirit world. . A pair of YMCA staff appeared with a box of face masks, an infrared thermometer and hand sanitizer to help the small group maintain the COVID protocol. Four women with drums shared their healing songs as a group of silent spectators gathered above the catwalk. As the group dispersed in the summer heat, six pink carnations floated downstream.
Angela Bellegarde, a resident of Oakville and a member of the Peepeekisis First Nation Band in Treaty 4, says she hopes this horrific discovery will motivate more Canadians to confront the truth of our national history. “They are also the children of Canada,” says Bellegarde. “How come you don’t know that?” This is no shock to us aboriginal people. ”
During Saturday’s ceremony, Bellegarde explained how her great-grandmother would proudly say that at least her child who died at residential school had a coffin. The little mercy of being allowed to retrieve the body of your own child was not something acquired by native parents whose children were forcibly abducted by a state and church focused on “killing the Indian in the country.” ‘child’. It is not known how many children died while attending residential school – estimates range from at least 3,200 to 6,000.
Monique Craigen, a member of Grandmothers Voice and one of the drummers at Saturday’s ceremony, explained that the voices of the children Canada was trying to forget would now be carried far and no one could ignore them anymore.
A mother of Indigenous children in Oakville, Shannon Park, said she was sorry not to have had the opportunity to cry together as she would have in Winnipeg, where she lived for 14 years. Her three-year-old lost her father to a drug overdose in May, and Park says she knows her ex-partner died from the intergenerational trauma passed down to her. “Even before he died, I knew it was entirely possible for this to happen to him. I noticed that Winnipeg had this huge memorial for the children, and I wanted so badly to be there to be with my friends there and having that cultural connection that I don’t really have in Oakville. “
“For people who are just listening to (residential school survivor stories), that’s the tip of the iceberg,” Park says. “I hope all of this starts to come out more and more, and people will now listen to the people who survived and what they witnessed.”
For Dalia El-Farra, an Oakville mom who managed to collect nearly 100 pairs of children’s shoes for Grandmothers Voice on May 31, the effects of colonization on Indigenous peoples echoed the experiences of her ancestors in the Middle -East. When asked what motivated her to collect shoes, she replied, “I felt helpless, I didn’t know what I could do, and it was the least I could do.”
“One of my lessons over the years is that I am a settler on colonized land, and that (the fact) has been very disturbing for me to learn because I am Palestinian,” El-Farra says. “Since then, I have embarked on a journey of learning and unlearning, trying to be respectful of the land I am on.”
Oakville Ward 1 Councilor Beth Robertson also scoured the city picking up shoes for Grandmothers Voice. Reached by phone, Robertson says the news of the 215 motivated her to end her Catholic Church affiliation after decades as a member. She says she could no longer bear the church’s disappointing response to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s request for a formal apology. “I just left the Catholic Church – it was like a drop of water,” she says. Of all the churches involved in the residential school legacy, the Catholic Church was the largest, managing nearly three-quarters of the 139 federally funded Indian residential schools that once operated in Canada from the 1870s to 1997. While the federal government and other churches involved in the residential school system have issued a formal apology, the Catholic Church has not.
Pressed on what the city of Oakville could do to follow up on calls for truth and reconciliation action, Robertson said COVID-19 is partly responsible for the lack of a candlelight vigil or a another collective mourning ceremony in response to the news. “I don’t know what my next (step) is except to continue the conversation,” Robertson said.
Sherry Saevil, one of the founders of Grandmothers Voice, challenged Oakville residents to participate in the 94 Truth and Reconciliation Calls for Action and 231 National Inquiry into Women and missing and murdered indigenous girls. “They say the longest journey is from your head to your heart,” Saevil says. “We are talking about 215 children, but this will not be the last. Each boarding school will have to be searched with ground penetrating radar. Putting on children’s shoes, yes, that’s an act. what are you going to do next? “
The closest boarding school to Oakville was the Mohawk Institution, colloquially known as Mush Hole due to the notoriously insufficient rations its involuntary students were forced to subsist on. The Mush Hole survivors are working to raise the $ 1 million they need to build a place to gather and heal. If you are able to contribute, please do so here.
Residential school survivors who experience pain or distress as a result of their residential school experiences are encouraged to contact the Indian Residential School Survivors Society which operates a 24 hour distress line at 1-866-925- 4419.