Prairie Crowe grew up on Piapot First Nation in Saskatchewan. Her mother and grandparents were all residential school survivors.
“When the 215 graves were found in Kamloops, I was scrolling social media like everyone else was and feeling a lot of grief and sadness and a lot of emotions that I really didn’t know what to do with,” Crowe said.
Crowe set up a memorial at the Saskatchewan Legislature which led to more than 1,000 shoes laid out on its steps to honour those unmarked graves.
When news broke Thursday of the estimated 751 unmarked graves in Saskatchewan, Crowe said, like many others, she was shocked.
“751 graves is almost unfathomable to me,” Crowe said. “It’s a weird feeling, it’s a feeling we don’t even know, it’s grief and it’s heavy.”
So to honour those lives lost, Crowe is trying to collect 751 backpacks and plans on marking them all with an orange handprint. The backpacks will then be displayed at the Saskatchewan Legislature on July 1 before being donated like what was done with the shoes.
“I think Canada Day this year needs to be a day of grieving – a collective day of mourning and grieving, not celebrating,” Crowe said. “There’s a lot of things going on that day – smudge walks, runs, vigils.”
On Thursday, Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) Chief Bobby Cameron said many other communities will be searching other former residential school sites and more graves will be found.
“We will find more bodies and we will not stop until we find all of our children. We will do a search of every Indian residential school site and we won’t stop there,” he said.
“We will also search all of the sanitariums, Indian hospitals and all of the sites where people were taken and abused, tortured, neglected and murdered.”
Although it’s news that won’t be easy to hear, Crowe said it’s important for the world to know.
“We need to know the truth. We need to know how many there really were,” Crowe said.
Anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of their residential school experience can access the 24-hour, toll-free and confidential National Indian Residential School Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419.