A backpack display on the steps of the Saskatchewan Legislative Building began as a small gesture. Hundreds of bags featuring orange hand cutouts were left in memory of the estimated 751 unmarked graves found near the former Marieval Residential School site on the Cowessess First Nation last week.
But the display quickly grew into something bigger and surpassed organizers’ goals.
On Friday afternoon, Prairie Crowe, the organizer of the display and some friends rounded up the backpacks to be donated, along with some others items dropped off by community members, such as school supplies and teddy bears.
Crowe estimates the display grew to include over 1,000 backpacks over the span of just a couple of days.
“Other people just contributed because they just wanted to help and be a part of it and just show their condolences and help with the impact,” Crowe said.
“So, I just feel really good about it and it surpassed our goal (of 751), which I really didn’t think we were going to get to,” she added.
When asked about next steps and what can be done to keep up momentum when it comes to bringing awareness about ongoing and current issues affecting Indigenous lives and Canadian society, Crowe shared some words from an Indigenous activist named Ryan Beardy from Winnipeg.
“Indian residential school survivors and Intergenerational survivors are disproportionately incarcerated, placed into cfs care and houseless in urban communities. If we want to keep that energy up and heal the damage done to a people then we should be advocating (for) them,” she quoted from Beardy’s Facebook page..
After being sorted and filled with school supplies, the backpacks will be dropped off at schools on nearby reserves and other schools and centres within the southern Saskatchewan area.
Fellow organizer and friend Katie Beck said anyone in need of a backpack will get one.
“It’s been really emotional helping Prairie with this,” Beck said.
“I think the best thing any of us can really be doing right now, as those who have not experienced this, is to just show our compassion, support and allyship to those who have experienced it personally,” Beck added.
On Canada Day, as the team of organizers were placing the hand cutouts on the display, Beck’s young children and their friends, all under the age of 10, noticed that a passerby had written the words, “No child matters,” on the sidewalk near the display and so the children quickly scribbled chalk over the writing as soon as they saw what happened.
Beck said she’s incredibly proud that her daughter and the others automatically knew it was wrong and took it upon themselves to hide the hateful and “ignorant” message.
“When a seven-year-old and a 10-year-old can see that … and immediately want to take action and say, ‘Mom we need to go and get chalk to cover this up because this isn’t okay,’ that just shows there’s still work that needs to be done,” Beck said.