Residential school survivors gather in Winnipeg to grieve, heal
Visitors leave 'a little bit stronger than when they got here,' says volunteer
WARNING: This story contains details some readers may find distressing.
Residential school survivors have made the front lawn of the Manitoba legislature a place to heal and a place to pay tribute after the remains of 215 children were found near the Kamloops Indian Residential School in B.C. last week.
"It's been very emotional and heavy for a lot of the survivors and a lot of the community," said residential school survivor Sue Caribou.
On Sunday a group of volunteers collected donations of firewood, water, and refreshments to set up a four-day sacred fire. Two teepees were also set up on the lawn as a place for people to gather.
Caribou, from Pukatawagan First Nation, attended the Guy Hill Indian Residential School in The Pas, Man., for seven years.
On Monday, she came to the legislative building to offer tobacco to the sacred fire and to be around others who were feeling the same way.
"I'm grateful that there's so much support," said Caribou.
"Our community just comes together with their drums, with their love, with their kindness. I'm very grateful that there's so much support because this thing is bringing back a lot of flashbacks."
Andre Henderson, who attended the Fort Alexander Indian Residential, said that his stomach was "twisted" and that he has had trouble sleeping since he found out the grim news.
On Monday he came with his son to pay his respects.
"It felt good coming here," said Henderson.
Drummers have stopped by to offer songs and people have left flowers and refreshments for the ones who are staying for longer periods of time.
"I think that ceremony comes first, especially for First Nations people and Indigenous people," said visitor Katherine Legrange.
"We are mindful, though, that we're social distancing and then sanitizing our hands and we really want to protect our elders and our knowledge keepers here today."
Marcel French, one of the community oshkaabewisag (Anishinaabemowin for helper), said it's important for the Indigenous community to gather even though there are public health restrictions in Manitoba.
"People are just relieved that they're able to come down here, sit down for a few moments, speak with other survivors," said French.
"And so you sense that after a while . . . somebody is leaving a little bit stronger than when they got here. And that's all due to the communication and the understanding."
National and regional support services are available for Indigenous people.
A National Indian Residential School Crisis Line provides support for former students and others affected. Crisis referral services can be accessed by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.
Hope for Wellness, set up in 2018 by the federal government, offers immediate mental health counselling and crisis intervention to Indigenous people across Canada. Online chat is available in English and French by visiting their website or by phone in English, French, Cree, Ojibway and Inuktitut at 1-855-242-3310.
The government of Canada has compiled a list of health and support services that are available regionally.