Why this activist says Londoners should walk to honour kids who died at residential schools

After preliminary scans revealed hundreds of unmarked graves at the sites of former residential schools in BC and Saskatchewan, longtime Indigenous advocate, Elyssa Rose is organizing a healing walk in London, Ont., on Canada Day at 10 am.

The Turtle Island Healing Walk is scheduled for July 1st at 10 a.m. at Victoria Park

Elyssa Rose is organizing a July 1st solidarity walk through Victoria Park to honour the children who died at Canada's residential schools. (Submitted by Elyssa Rose)

A longtime Indigenous advocate is organizing a healing walk in London, Ont., in Victoria Park on Canada Day, an event organized after preliminary scans revealed hundreds of unmarked graves at the sites of former residential schools in BC and Saskatchewan.

"It has empowered me and motivated me to bring hope through love and kindness to our communities as we walk together in healing," said Elyssa Rose, who works as the anti-human trafficking coordinator with Atlohsa Family Healing Services. 

The walk begins at 10 a.m. 

Last Thursday, the Cowessess First Nation said it believes it found 751 unmarked graves at the former Marieval Indian Residential School. Last month, the Tk'emlups te Secwepemc First Nation said a preliminary scan detected the remains of an estimated 215 near the former residential school in Kamloops.

Though the news was not surprising to Indigenous people, said Rose, it is deeply upsetting.

"Every time we open up social media, every time we listen to the news, there's something about this and it's traumatizing." 

Pausing Canada Day celebrations

It's not a coincidence the walk coincides with Canada Day, and Rose is hopeful Londoners will see the symbolic value in walking with Indigenous people on that day.

"The focus here is not necessarily to cancel Canada Day, but we need to stop and pause," she said. 

Rose is encouraging participants to wear orange shirts on Thursday and many will be given signs to carry, each with a number to represent the children whose remains were discovered at the sites of former residential schools. Speakers, jingle dance performers and the Eagle Flight Singers will be taking the stage for the event.

The walk is for everyone, said Rose. "My vision for this was to bring everyone together to show that there are those that stand with us."

"It's important that we take that time to reflect. In order for us to reconcile, we need to look at Canada and how we move forward together." 

That's only possible by learning about residential schools and being kind to one another, she said.

"In order for Canada to heal, to reconcile, for us to move forward, recommendations need to be taken seriously. Our community will be taken seriously," Rose said. "People need to support Indigenous communities, businesses, agencies, whatever it is. We just need to come together."