Manitoba’s Indigenous leaders, political leaders and communities mourned this past weekend after the gut-wrenching discovery of hundreds of bodies at the site of a former residential school in B.C.
The remains of 215 children were discovered last week, with help from ground-penetrating radar at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, according to Chief Rosanne Casimir of Tk’emlúps te Secwepemc.
Indigenous communities in Winnipeg expressed their shock and sadness through powerful visual demonstrations and prayer.
Winnipeggers Michelle Faith and Shelby Sinclair gathered children’s shoes to carefully place at the Oodena Circle at the Forks on Saturday with the goal of having one pair of shoes represent one child found at the site.
In the end, more than 300 pairs of shoes were gathered Saturday, and people continued to add to them Sunday.
“Almost everyone I crossed paths with today had a family member who attended residential school or day school,” Faith wrote on social media.
“I was also very touched by all the non-indigenous people who came to speak with us with such eagerness to learn about our peoples traumatic history.”
On Sunday, the shoes were moved to the steps of the Manitoba Legislature building by residential school survivors, who also hung orange cloth and ribbons around the grounds and started a sacred fire.
The colour orange has become a symbol for the suffering borne by children forced to go to residential schools in Canada.
Indigenous and political leaders spoke of their grief Sunday.
“You think you’re beginning to heal and then something like this happens and it opens wounds for a lot of our people, and it’s a very dark chapter that seems to haunt us even though we want to heal and move forward,” said Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) Grand Chief Garrison Settee Saturday.
Mayor Brian Bowman pledged to fly Winnipeg’s flags at half mast for four days in honour of those who died at residential schools, and he also dimmed the Winnipeg sign at the Forks.
Premier Brian Pallister also sent out a statement, pledging that flags would be lowered as well and the building lit in orange.
“I was deeply saddened to learn of the horrifying discovery of a mass grave at the site of a former residential school in British Columbia,” he said.
“This discovery reminds us all of the tragedy of the residential school system.”
“We must all remain committed to righting this historic wrong and to ensure that it is never allowed to happen again.
The Winnipeg School Division, local businesses and others followed suit.