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Gatherings pay tribute to lives lost at B.C. residential school

Hundreds gathered at Alberta Legislature over the weekend, joining memorials across the country in recognition of mass grave discovered at a former B.C. residential school.
The former Kamloops Indian Residential School Photo: The Kamloops Heritage Commission.

Around 200 people gathered at the Alberta Legislature Sunday evening for 215 seconds of silence in memory of children who died at residential schools. That number of bodies were discovered at a former Kamloops Residential School last week.

Throughout the day, children’s shoes were left near a Catholic monument on the legislature grounds as a reminder of the Church’s responsibility for some of the worst abuse in residential schools.

Anita Cardinal-Stewart, president of the University of Alberta Law Students Association and vigil organizer said "this has been a difficult and triggering time for survivors and the families of those who didn't survive. Albertans of all backgrounds stood in solidarity to remember and honour those 215 and all the children who perished as a result of attending a residential school."

From 1869-1996, over 150,000 children were removed from their families and placed in Canadian residential schools. According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, at least 3,200 children died while attending these schools though actual loss of life is estimated to be much higher.

Amidst calls to do more than 'remember' the lives lost, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted over the weekend that the Peace Tower flag in Ottawa and flags on all federal buildings would be flown at half-mast.

“Discoveries such as the one in Kamloops this week are like salt in open wounds, reminding us all of the pain that remains and the healing left to do. Healing is made more difficult when the history and legacy of residential schools is denied. Until those voices have no place in our communities, let alone our schools, the work of healing and reconciliation will not progress,” said Cardinal-Stewart, pointing to Alberta's draft K-6 curriculum that incorporates input from those whose work seeks to minimize the history and legacy of residential schools.

"We call on all Canadians to reach out to those in our communities who are struggling anew as a result of the recent news, learn the history of residential schools and condemn those who deny, belittle or excuse the history of forcing children to attend residential schools."

Following news of the mass grave discovered in B.C., memorials sprung up across the country. Edmonton mayor Don Iveson said in a statement Sunday that city council will observe 215 seconds of silence in honour of the 215 children at next council meeting. Flags at city hall will also be lowered for 215 hours from May 31 to June 8.

University of Calgary president Ed McCauley said the university must continue "to learn, to act and to grow if we wish to walk side by side forward in a better way," adding a renewed commitment to learn the hidden histories and Indigenous cultures beside us all and to "walk supportively beside Indigenous peoples on our parallel paths."

The Indian Residential School Survivors Society's emergency crisis line is available for those in need of support. Call 1-866-925-4419.

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