Young Indigenous artists create Saskatoon memorial for residential school victims

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WATCH: A new art installation honouring the lives of the 215 children who were found buried at a residential school in Kamloops, B.C., is now in Saskatoon's river landing thanks to a group of young Indigenous artists – Jun 4, 2021

A group of young Indigenous artists has created an art installation to honour the lives of 215 Indigenous children whose remains were found buried at a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.

Rocks, painted orange to represent each of the 215, will sit along Saskatoon’s river launch for the community to see.

Spokesperson for the group Dustin Ross Fiddler says they took time to process the grief of the news before deciding on what action to take.

“These emotions are real. This history is ongoing,” he said. “It’s history in action and these young people are so sensitive to this issue because it’s their lives.”

Read more: Grief, sorrow after discovery of 215 bodies, unmarked graves at former B.C. residential school site

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He says it’s personal for each of them after watching friends, neighbours, parents and grandparents in their community impacted by the trauma of the Residential School System.

“It’s a shock, it’s mourning, it’s deep sadness,” Fiddler explained. “You see your friends and relatives in those kids.”

The group says they are hoping to see government at all levels offer more visible commemorations to the history of the Canadian Residential School System and to Indigenous history. The city of Saskatoon currently does not have a monument to residential school survivors or victims.

“They want to create a better future for this country,” Fiddler said. “They don’t want their kids to feel the same way that they do today.”

Read more: Trudeau vows ‘concrete action’ after discovery of 215 bodies at former residential school site

A spokesperson for the city told Global News “The City of Saskatoon believes in the importance of permanent public art installations that honour Indigenous history and culture and is deeply committed to incorporating Indigenous worldviews into any decisions about new artworks.”

Saskatoon currently has 15 public art structures dedicated to Indigenous history and stories.

On Friday afternoon, community partners and elders gathered for a memorial to the 215 and for the survivors in the community.

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Saskatoon police chief Troy Cooper was in attendance and said the SPS is focusing on providing supports and mental health resources to survivors and elders within the community and their organization.

“This is a group of people that generally took care of everybody else and for the last little while, they need our help,” Cooper said. “So that’s what we’re here for is to provide support for them.”

Read more: When should Canadians begin learning about residential schools? Experts say kindergarten

For those looking to pay respects in the coming days, a sacred fire will burn for the next four days in Victoria Park and the painted rocks will remain at the river launch.

“This healing process is communal for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people alike,” said Fiddler.

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