Hamilton

Community vigil honours 215 children found at former B.C. residential school

WARNING: This story contains distressing details. At least 100 people attended a vigil in Stoney Creek after the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation said last Thursday preliminary findings from a survey of the grounds at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School uncovered the remains of 215 children.

Indigenous community facing 'a lot of anger, sadness and then trying to find ... healing'

A boy leaves a pair of shoes at a vigil in Stoney Creek honouring the 215 children whose remains were discovered on the grounds of a residential school in Kamloops, B.C. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

For two minutes and fifteen seconds, the more than 100 people gathered at an Indigenous vigil in Stoney Creek stood in silence.

The ceremony was held after 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.

A statement from the First Nation said the missing children, some as young as three years old, were undocumented deaths.

Amber Johnson and her sister Tiana were in the crowd at Battlefield House, drying their tears. The two Mohawk Nation and Turtle Clan sisters from Six Nations of the Grand River say the past week has been a roller coaster of emotions.

"A lot of anger, sadness and then trying to find within that healing ... it's been a really devastating week for us in the community," Amber said.

Amber Johnson, from Six Nations of the Grand River, teared up during an Indigenous vigil in Stoney Creek. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

The vigil on Monday followed a Sunday memorial created by local Indigenous community members, which drew nearly 100 little shoes, boots and moccasins.

Residents gathered at 6 p.m. on Monday to honour the children. Many wore orange, a symbol of reconciliation.

A mother and her baby embrace. In front of them lie nearly 400 child-sized shoes, boots and moccasins representing the 215 children whose remains were discovered on the grounds of a residential school in Kamloops, B.C. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)
An Indigenous woman who danced during some of the songs during the vigil was among the more than 100 people who attended the Stoney Creek ceremony. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Amber Carrier, who is Nêhiyawi or Cree, was among the Indigenous community members leading the ceremony.

"It's like opening wounds that have never even got a chance to heal yet, all over again," Carrier said. "Intergenerational trauma is a real thing many of us have dealt with."

The sombre event began with Indigenous leaders singing Wildflower — a song about children. Then elders offered their remarks.

After that, Indigenous community members pounded on big drums and sang an honour song, before playing other songs and dancing. 

WATCH: Indigenous vigil in Stoney Creek for 215 children found at former B.C. residential school

Indigenous vigil in Stoney Creek for 215 children found at former B.C. residential school

CBC News Hamilton

2 months ago
1:27
A vigil in Stoney Creek honoured the 215 children found buried at a former B.C. residential school. 1:27

Then came the moment of silence. Parents clutched onto each other and their children. Others had pain etched into their faces. Some shed tears.

Throughout the event, organizers also emphasized physical distancing and COVID-19 precautions.

Medicines like sage, cedar, sweetgrass, tobacco and strawberries lay by the tribute to the children. Dozens lined up in single file to give their own offerings and prayers.

A mother holds her son during the Indigenous vigil in Stoney Creek. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)
A drummer plays a song during the Indigenous vigil in Stoney Creek. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)
An Indigenous man raises his fist in the air during a vigil in Stoney Creek. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

The collection of little shoes, boots and moccasins grew to nearly 400 pairs, far surpassing the goal of 215. Toys, cards, flowers and other mementos accompanied them.

Tara Williams, who is Ǫgwehǫ:weh, said she sees the newer generation of Indigenous people stepping up to learn Indigenous languages and reclaim their identities.

"We always knew ... about the mass graves," she said. "We're hoping this will open up the eyes and hearts of other people to see what our people have endured for many years."

A person wearing a face shield adds to the collection of shoes, boots and moccasins in Stoney Creek honouring the 215 children whose remains were discovered on the grounds of a residential school in Kamloops, B.C. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)
A pair of child-sized sandals with the message, "Rest in peace sweet angels" was left at an Indigenous vigil in Stoney Creek. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)
Locals from Hamilton left shoes, toys and other mementos at a vigil in Stoney Creek to honour the 215 children whose remains were discovered on the grounds of a residential school in Kamloops, B.C. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)
Shoes were left an an Indigenous vigil in Stoney Creek to honour the 215 children whose remains were discovered on the grounds of a residential school in Kamloops, B.C. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools, and those who are triggered by the latest reports.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has 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.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bobby Hristova

Reporter/Editor

Bobby Hristova is a reporter/editor with CBC Hamilton. Email: bobby.hristova@cbc.ca

With files from CBC News

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