British Columbia

B.C. Legislature issues apology after shoe display commemorating Indigenous children taken down

The Indigenous artist who organized the vigil says she was shocked when she returned to the legislature barely 12 hours later and there was no sign of the items.

Indigenous artist who organized the vigil was told items are not allowed to be left behind after protests

Shoes are placed on the front steps of the B.C. legislature on May 31, 2021 in memory of the children who died at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

WARNING: This story contains details some readers may find distressing.

The B.C. Legislature has issued an apology after a display of shoes, candles and toys placed on its steps to honour Indigenous children was removed without warning this weekend.

The display was set up Friday night, and the Indigenous artist who organized the vigil says she was shocked when she returned to the legislature Saturday morning and there was no sign of the items.

"I saw that it was empty and my heart sunk. It just dropped into my stomach and I thought I was going to throw up," said Ecko Aleck.

The Legislative Assembly of B.C.  addressed the incident in a written statement on Monday afternoon.

"Compassion and sensitivity should have been exercised with the memorial items remaining in place," the statement reads.

"The Legislative Assembly offers its sincere apologies for the hurt this has caused."

The statement notes that more items were placed on the steps on Monday and they will not be disturbed.

"We appreciate and welcome the public to use the legislative grounds as a place to gather and grieve," it says.

'This was a vigil to honour our children'

Aleck, who is a member of the Nlaka'pamux Nation in B.C.'s Interior, was told by the legislative guard on duty Saturday morning that the items had been collected and bagged up because they were "abandoned."

She says the guard told her that if they allowed every protest to leave behind items, the steps would be littered with flags, posters and other objects.

"I said this was a vigil. This is not a protest. This was a vigil to honour our children."

Aleck requested to have the items returned and they were given to her in garbage bags.

The Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation said last Thursday that preliminary findings from a survey of the grounds at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School uncovered the remains of 215 children.

Aleck was inspired to organize the display after seeing a similar memorial on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery. She gathered the donations of children's shoes and toys within a few hours Friday and brought them to the legislature.

The guards who were on duty Friday evening watched her set up the display and perform a song without interfering.

Indigenous artist Ecko Aleck organized this display of shoes and toys to honour the 215 children whose remains were reportedly found at the site of a Kamloops residential school. (Ecko Aleck)

Her father is a survivor of Canada's residential schools and she says the reports of the children's remains found in Kamloops had a deep impact on her as a daughter and mother herself.

"These stories were talked about throughout my entire childhood. So I knew the horrors of the schools," she said. "But having this uncovered is... It's the truth, it's the proof of the oral histories that we as Indigenous people have been told most of our lives."

Support is available for anyone affected by the lingering effects of residential schools, and those who are triggered by the latest reports.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has also been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.