City of Calgary partners with Fort Calgary to build residential school memorial

Click to play video: 'Hundreds gather in Fort Calgary to mark National Day for Truth and Reconciliation'
Hundreds gather in Fort Calgary to mark National Day for Truth and Reconciliation
Hundreds of Calgarians came out to attend events marking the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. First Nations and Métis survivors of residential schools, their families and communities came together with non-Indigenous people at events throughout the city. As Carolyn Kury de Castillo reports, a location has now been chosen to create a permanent memorial to remind people of the legacy of residential schools and to honour those children who did not make it home. – Sep 30, 2023

The City of Calgary and Fort Calgary announced a partnership to build and design a permanent memorial for residential school survivors.

According to a news release on Saturday, the city said it started working on a permanent memorial after the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc announced the discovery of 215 potential unmarked graves at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in May 2021.

A temporary memorial was placed in front of City Hall soon after the announcement, which the city said made the need for a permanent memorial more evident.

The city said its Indigenous Relations Office began working with several partners in November 2021, including several Indigenous communities, the Indigenous Residential School (IRS) Elders Advisory Group and the IRS working group to design a permanent memorial.

The city and Fort Calgary signed a letter of intent to confirm the partnership earlier this week, according to the news release. Fort Calgary was chosen as the site of the memorial after broad community engagement throughout 2022 because it is at the confluence of the Bow and Elbow rivers.

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A marker indicating the site of the future memorial has been placed in the northeast corner of the Fort Calgary community garden.

“This site is incredibly important to Indigenous communities and it’s absolutely appropriate for a memorial,” Mayor Jyoti Gondek told reporters on Saturday.

“Once the process of construction begins there will be conversations about any components that need to be carried forward, how do we incorporate them and how do we make sure we honour the folks that constructed the original memorial. There’s still a lot of conversations to be had.

“As much as it’s important to understand what this means to Indigenous communities, it matters to all of us as settlers as well: people who don’t understand that these things happened, people who are still in denial and those of us who are on a journey towards reconciliation. A place like this matters so we can connect with the truth and move forward towards a better place.”

An event to mark the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation was held on Saturday despite the rainy and cool weather.

Jonathan Kaiswatum is one of many people who attended residential schools who were at the event at Fort Calgary.

He attended The Marieval Indian Residential in Saskatchewan from 1992 to 1996 as a day scholar, and so did his parents and grandparents.

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“My grandparents never spoke about it. They buried it.  They buried that trauma and it came out in different ways. The impact that it had on our family is direct so it’s not that long ago,” Kaiswatum said.

“It wasn’t until 2008 when they got the apology from then Prime Minister Stephen Harper that my grandfather just started to really recognize what happened and that it was wrong.

Indigenous educators who took part in the event at Fort Calgary said there are many ways we can all take part in reconciliation.

“Everybody can get themselves involved. Powwow is free.  Everything and anything you can do to get yourself involved to understanding their tradition, ceremony and culture because that’s what is lost in residential schools,” said Cynthia Launiere, CCSD  Indigenous education supervisor.

Launiere’s family is from a First Nation in Quebec. Her grandfather and father attended residential schools.

Launiere said learning Indigenous cultures will help everyone deal with mistakes of the past.

“Although we didn’t create the mess 150 years ago, we are actually honoured to be able to clean it up and fix it … We can regain the knowledge regarding the traditions, their ways and perspectives and dance and music and their language,” said Lauriere.

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