The discovery at a residential school of the remains of 215 children in an unmarked burial site in Kamloops has sparked conversation and memorials across the country.
On Thursday, a ceremony was held in Kainai — the Blood Reserve in Alberta.
It was organized by the Kainai Wellness Centre.
“The Blood Tribe is honoring and providing support, prayers and acknowledgment to our relatives and our members here,” said Terri-Lynn Fox, director of wellness program for the Blood Tribe Department of Health.
The COVID-19-safe event included songs, dancing, drumming and prayers around 215 markers that had been placed in the ground. With each drum beat, there was a tobacco offering and an orange ribbon tied to each marker.
“We’re honoring all Indigenous people,” said Fox.
“The path towards healing is not easy. But we are doing it.”
Blood Tribe councilor, Martin Heavy Head, is a third-generation residential school survivor. His grandparents, parents were each taken away to one, as was he.
He said this week was been hard for his family and members of his community, a hardship that he believes is far from over.
“I imagine there’s going to be a lot more,” he said about the discovery of the unmarked burial site. “I think this is just the tip of the iceberg.”
Kainai is the largest First Nations reserve in Canada. There were two residential schools in the area: St. Mary’s which closed in 1988, and St. Paul’s which closed in 1975.
CEO of the Blood Tribe Department of Health, Derrick Fox, has lived the intergenerational trauma residential schools have left behind. Both his parents attended one.
“I’m so proud of my late mother,” he said. “The care and the love that she gave, as well as from my father who is still with us.
“It is very challenging for him… I know he has lots of scars from residential school. But the love for his family is so strong.”
Fox said this week has been a tribute to his mother, who was very vocal in the early 1980s about boarding school syndrome and the impact it had on the First Nations community.
“It is with a heavy heart that we bring forward today some of those understandings from the past. But in order to move forward, we really need to understand where we come from. This is going to help us heal immensely.”
Members of the Blood Tribe said going forward they hope that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action will be implemented.
The Commission operated between 2008 and 2015. It provided Indigenous people directly or indirectly affected by the residential school system with a chance to share their stories and experiences.
The final report provided a detailed account of what happened to Indigenous children who were physically and sexually abused in government boarding schools. At least 3,200 children died amid abuse and neglect, the Commission said. Since the discovery of the unmarked burial site in Kamloops, that number could be higher.
Also published were 94 Calls to Action. These applied to all levels of government and urged a change in policies and programs to repair the harm caused by residential schools. It was a step towards reconciliation.
“We have those 94 recommendations,” said Heavy Head. “But who’s really following up on them? Canada really needs to look at these recommendations and start following up.”
“My hope is that Canada, and Alberta, will do something about it. Change the system. Recognize the history that hasn’t been recognized up to this point.”
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.