PEI

Mi'kmaw chief challenges those affected by Kamloops children to speak out

A 215-hour vigil came to an end during a solemn ceremony Tuesday at Abegweit First Nation on Prince Edward Island. 

100 people at solemn ceremony urged to fight historical inaccuracies with 'the truth'

Small crosses were erected in what amounted to a temporary graveyard, with a pair of children's shoes hung on each cross. (Jane Robertson/CBC)

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

A 215-hour vigil came to an end during a solemn ceremony Tuesday at Abegweit First Nation on Prince Edward Island. 

The Mi'kmaw community began the vigil in Scotchfort after researchers detected the remains of 215 children on the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.

A sacred flame was lit in memory of the children, and knowledge keepers tended it for seven days as the 215 hours passed.

As well, 215 small crosses were erected in what amounted to a temporary graveyard, with a pair of children's shoes hung on each cross.

"We wanted to give them all the honours of life that [were] taken away from them, not of their own choice," said Chief Junior Gould.

"I wanted them to hear the drumming and the celebrations."

As the 215-hour period drew to an end, community members were invited to gather a pair of shoes from the crosses. (Jane Robertson/CBC)

Gould led the event on the lawn in front of the Mi'kmaw First Nation's administration office Tuesday afternoon, with about 100 people in attendance.

"One of the things that I would like, everybody, is take two seconds today, think of the 215 children, and when you hear of a conversation that is contrary to history, contrary to the facts, raise your hand, and say, 'That's not true; this is the truth.'"

As the 215-hour period drew to an end, community members were invited to gather a pair of shoes from the crosses.

The shoes were then placed in containers to be kept safe, until they can be the first thing buried in the community's new graveyard that is now under construction.

The plastic containers hold the shoes that hung on the crosses. The chief says they will be the first thing buried in the new cemetery. (Jane Robertson/CBC)

News of the children's buried remains came after Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation commissioned a survey using ground-penetrating radar. 

The results underlined what Indigenous Canadians have been saying for generations: That many young children who were taken from their parents and sent to government-funded, church-run schools were never heard from again. 

It is not known what caused the deaths of the children whose remains were found in Kamloops, but the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada heard testimony from former students across the country about untreated illnesses, malnutrition and physical and sexual abuse. 

'If we can break the silence, we control the history moving forward,' Chief Junior Gould says. (Jane Robertson/CBC)

Gould said people from all over Prince Edward Island have been stopping by the Scotchfort memorial to pay their respects since hearing about the Kamloops discovery.

He hopes they and countless others will commit to learning more about the history of Canadian residential schools.

"If we can break the silence, we control the history moving forward," he said. "We will create our history together for our children and our grandchildren." 

NOTE: Support is available for anyone affected by the effects of 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.

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With files from Jane Robertson

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