Members of Siksika Nation east of Calgary gathered on Sunday to grieve the loss of children at residential schools in Canada.
The event was held to honour the 215 children discovered in unmarked burial sites at a former residential school in Kamloops.
The women who attended the ceremony represented three generations of damage done by residential schools on Siksika Nation.
“It was like hell. Being called filthy. It gave me that low self-worth. I didn’t feel adequate. I didn’t feel loved,” said Kanakii Mekaisto of her time in the late 1960s at a residential school on Siksika Nation.
She remembers the physical and sexual abuse endured at school while others recalled only seeing their parents once a year.
“We didn’t even know how to grieve at that time. We were told not to cry. We were told not to talk. All they did was yell at us,” Mekaisto said.
“We were strapped. We couldn’t understand why they were doing that to us.”
On Sunday at 2:15 p.m., residential school survivors gathered on Siksika Nation to remember the 215 children who did not survive at the residential school in Kamloops. Prayers were said, and three women cut their braids, which organizers called a symbolic demonstration of grief.
“Because we are all mothers and grandmothers, we really felt for those 215 children,” said Gabriella Many Shots, who attended a residential school.
“It sure wasn’t us who damaged our own people. In fact, we were masters in raising children. We loved our children.”
The ceremony also honoured the parents, siblings and friends of the women who attended — the ones who they said succumbed to the long-lasting trauma that began at the schools.
“I only know a handful of people who are still alive from (Old Sun School) that were in the dorm I was in because they suffered from family violence, abuse and neglect,” Mekaisto said.
While the ceremony is about healing, Many Guns said members of Siksika Nation are bracing themselves for more grief as more lost children may be found.
“We need to brace ourselves for the upcoming news that we are going to be hearing. We really need to connect with each other and comfort each other because it’s coming. The truth is coming,” Many Shots said.
There will also be a silent march on Tsuut’ina Nation on Monday morning. The march will begin at the health centre and proceed to the sportsplex outdoor rink for speeches, a pipe ceremony and drumming.