Children’s shoes, teddy bears and candles covered the steps of Calgary City Hall on Monday night as about 200 people gathered to remember the young lives lost to Canada’s residential school system.
The remains of 215 Indigenous children were found in an unmarked burial site at a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C., on May 27, according to the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation.
While the appalling discovery demonstrates that there are still horrors to be uncovered in the history of this country, people are coming together to grieve, said singer-songwriter Curt Young at Monday’s vigil.
“This is a crime that happens all over the place. It’s just that it was exposed for the Kamloops people,” he said.
“We support each other through the reconciliation… We see so many different people from different backgrounds to support this, and that’s what this is about. It’s about us not sitting back and letting this crime go by without us standing up.”
Young said he is from Gordon First Nation, a place that still had a residential school open in 1996. His parents were directly affected by the cultural genocide.
“I never learnt how to hug a person until I was 38 years old because my parents never hugged me because they were never hugged because they went to residential school,” he said.
RCMP took 150,000 Indigenous children from their families and sent them to government-funded, church-run residential schools, which date back to the 1870s, to assimilate them, according to Reconciliation Canada. Ninety to 100 per cent of students suffered severe physical, emotional and sexual abuse during their time at the schools. There was a 40 to 60 per cent mortality rate in residential schools.
Survivors of the residential school system can get support through Canada’s Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program 24-7 crisis line by calling 1-866-925-4419.
Calgarians also paid tribute to the victims on Sunday.