PEI

Emotional vigil held in Charlottetown for victims, survivors of residential schools

Hundreds of mourners held a peaceful vigil in downtown Charlottetown Thursday evening in honour of the victims and survivors of residential schools, spurred by the discovery two weeks ago of the remains of 215 children buried at a former residential school site in Kamloops, B.C.

'Listen, learn, understand our struggles'

Vigil-keepers were asked to wear orange to commemorate the 215 children whose remains have been discovered at a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

Hundreds of mourners held a peaceful vigil in downtown Charlottetown Thursday evening in honour of the victims and survivors of residential schools, spurred by the discovery two weeks ago of the remains of 215 children buried at a former residential school site in Kamloops, B.C.

"For many Canadians, this gruesome, horrific discovery came as a shock," said Lennox Island First Nation Chief Darlene Bernard, speaking at the vigil. 

"But for us, the Indigenous Peoples, this only served to confirm what we have known and heard for so long. And it is only now that the rest of Canada and the world knows what happened, can Indigenous people feel OK to openly grieve and feel believed."

The vigil was organized by the Island's Indigenous community as a way to support one another. Some residential school survivors took part. 

Vigil-keepers walked silently behind a group of singers and drummers around Confederation Landing Park. 

Many wore orange shirts in support of residential school survivors and their families.

Events in honour of the 215 children were held at both Abegweit and Lennox Island First Nations since the news.

Thursday, the goal was to bring people together in one location to hear and learn from members of the Island's Indigenous community.

Chief Junior Gould of the Abegweit First Nation choked back tears as he spoke of the "failed practices" of the residential school system, which tried to erase Indigenous language and culture, referencing the architect of the schools, Sir John A. Macdonald.

"I'm going to show you the hardest thing for me to do: introduce myself in my language," Gould said, proceeding to do just that. 

"They didn't kill my father's Indian in him, because it lives in me ... I am the Indian problem," Gould said, to applause. 

Organizers said this event is also about demanding action from both government and church leaders on the 94 calls to action from the 2015 report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The line of mourners stretched around Confederation Landing Park in Charlottetown. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

There's also a call to action for Canadians for anyone who doesn't know much about Indigenous history or residential schools to start taking initiative on their own to educate themselves on the way Indigenous communities have been treated — and continue to be treated.

Gould called on everyone to call out misinformation about residential schools and the hurt they caused, and to speak out. 

"Listen, learn, understand our struggles," he said. "If you can take that away and one child, one person becomes a better person, these elders right here, they would have graduated from a school — not survived."

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 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.

More from CBC P.E.I.

With files from Jessica Doria-Brown and Brian Higgins

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