Edmonton

Vigil at Alberta Legislature mourns children who died at residential schools

Hundreds of people gathered at the Alberta Legislature in Edmonton Sunday evening for a vigil mourning children who died at residential schools.

Participants at Edmonton vigil mark 215 seconds of silence

People gather at a vigil at the Alberta Legislature on Sunday, May 30, 2021 mourning children who died at residential schools. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

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

Hundreds of people gathered at the Alberta Legislature in Edmonton Sunday evening for a vigil mourning children who died at residential schools. 

The event was held on the heels of an announcement Thursday from the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation that the bodies of 215 children were found buried at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, near the city of Kamloops in B.C. 

"We have to now look more closely at the other residential schools and the burial sites because there are burial sites at every single one of them," said vigil organizer Anita Cardinal-Stewart at the event organized by the Indigenous Law Students Association. 

Stewart said about 300 people attended the vigil.

"This has been a difficult and triggering time for survivors and the families of those who didn't survive," she said. 

"Today, Albertans of all backgrounds stood in unity and solidarity to remember and to honour those 215 and all the children who perished as a result of attending a residential school. We will never forget and Canada must tell the truth."

Children’s shoes were left at the monument to Catholic nuns on the legislature grounds on Sunday, May 30, 2021. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

Participants at the vigil marked 215 seconds of silence in memory of the children who died at residential schools, and throughout the day, children's shoes were left at the monument to Catholic nuns on the legislature grounds. 

A statement from the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation said that the missing children, some as young as three years old, were undocumented deaths.

Flags across the country have been lowered or will be lowered in honour of the children — including at the Alberta Legislature Building, and at city hall, where Mayor Don Iveson has said flags will be lowered for 215 hours starting Monday. 

Hundreds gather at Alberta Legislature to mourn for children found buried at site of former Kamloops Indian Residential School

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Participants marked the deaths with 215 seconds of silence. 1:08

Citing Edmonton as home to one of the largest urban Indigenous communities in Canada, and home to the largest number of residential school survivors in the country, Iveson said news of the discovery of the 215 children "hits hard" in the city. 

"The evidence of barbaric practices and the impact of official government policies that ripped families apart is overwhelming," Iveson said in a statement released on Twitter Sunday.

"On behalf of the people of Edmonton, our thoughts and sympathies go out to the people of the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation, where this tragedy is closest, and to other nations in the region whose children attended that school, and to all Indigenous peoples who have been impacted and retraumatized by this discovery," Iveson said.

'Incredibly traumatic' 

Healing from the traumatic experience of the residential school system is "continuous and inter-generational," the Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations Chiefs said in a statement Sunday. 

"The children were denied their last moments away from family who loved and cherished them. The families were denied the right to grieve, and to follow through with customary burial practices," said Grand Chief Vernon Watchmaker.

"When violence as devastating as this is exposed, it is incredibly traumatic for our collective Nations, Nation members, and all who are impacted by the horrific truths of Canada's genocide."

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

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