VIDEO: Langley park site of memorial to 215 children buried at Kamloops residential school

Metal maple leafs in the foreground are on the cenotaph in Douglas Park. Langley City has announced a memorial at the park to the 215 dead children whose bodies were buried on a Kamloops residential school site. (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance Times)Metal maple leafs in the foreground are on the cenotaph in Douglas Park. Langley City has announced a memorial at the park to the 215 dead children whose bodies were buried on a Kamloops residential school site. (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance Times)
Langley’s Tara Helps, family and friends started a memorial for the 215 children buried at the Kamloops residential school as a way to encourage discussion and learning about Indigenous history. (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance Times)Langley’s Tara Helps, family and friends started a memorial for the 215 children buried at the Kamloops residential school as a way to encourage discussion and learning about Indigenous history. (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance Times)
Stuffed toys and orange ribbons were put on a fence at Langley City’s Conder Park on the last weekend of May 2021 as a memorial to the 215 dead children at the Kamloops residential school. (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance Times)Stuffed toys and orange ribbons were put on a fence at Langley City’s Conder Park on the last weekend of May 2021 as a memorial to the 215 dead children at the Kamloops residential school. (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance Times)
Stuffed toys and orange ribbons were put on a fence at Langley City’s Conder Park on the last weekend of May 2021 as a memorial to the 215 dead children at the Kamloops residential school. (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance Times)Stuffed toys and orange ribbons were put on a fence at Langley City’s Conder Park on the last weekend of May 2021 as a memorial to the 215 dead children at the Kamloops residential school. (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance Times)
A memorial to the 215 dead children buried at the Kamloops residential school has been set up in Douglas Park near the cenotaph. (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance Times)A memorial to the 215 dead children buried at the Kamloops residential school has been set up in Douglas Park near the cenotaph. (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance Times)
The stuffed toys, flowers, and children’s shoes in Douglas Park are a public memorial to the 215 children whose bodies were buried at a Kamloops residential school. The memorial is next to the stone cenotaph for Canada’s war dead. (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance Times)The stuffed toys, flowers, and children’s shoes in Douglas Park are a public memorial to the 215 children whose bodies were buried at a Kamloops residential school. The memorial is next to the stone cenotaph for Canada’s war dead. (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance Times)

Stuffed toys and orange ribbons adorn the fence at Conder Park in Langley City, a memorial for the 215 children who never came home.

Many Canadians are mourning after the weekend announcement that ground penetrating radar has uncovered the bodies of some 215 Indigenous children on the grounds of a Kamloops residential school.

The Catholic-church-run school opened in 1890. The federal government took over the school in 1969 and ran it as a day school until 1978.

Langley City resident Tara Helps put up a display in her front yard of the family’s orange T-shirts from Orange Shirt Day. She and others posted on social media about what they could do to create a community memorial.

“It has to be at a park, because that’s representative of children,” Helps explained. “These children never got to play.”

There were various suggestions, but several became bogged down that municipal governments would dismantle them. She hopes others want to learn.

“That truth really needs to be learned,” she said.

Helps who is an Aboriginal support worker with School District 35, family and friends ended up putting the stuffies and ribbons on the chain link fence at Conder Park.

“We shared some songs together for the families that are lost and for the children,” she said.

READ MORE: Trudeau promises more support for Indigenous peoples after unmarked graves found

READ MORE: Residential school survivor calling for Canada-wide search of sites after remains of 216 children found

The news of the mass grave has people asking questions and wanting to find out more about Canadian history.

“There’s still people in Langley who don’t know about Orange Shirt Day. They don’t know the history of Canada,” Helps said.

She got the chance to chat with two people visiting the memorial.

“A grandfather and a little girl walked up to the memorial. He said ‘that’s why you’re wearing your orange shirt and why you will wear it at school tomorrow.’ There is hope that Canada will change its view of Indigenous history and of Indigenous people,” Helps commented. “I am grateful to see the outpouring of love in our community, online and across the country as cities and schools lower flags and moments of silence are held. I hope parents will hold their children close but not be afraid to educate them about this tragic history.”

She said the deaths and how they were handled impact families for generations.

“The fact that it took ‘proof’ of these deaths [radar] and not the knowledge of these families is unfathomable. Where were the investigations then? The families knew. They have always known,” Helps said. “And now Canada knows. What will Canadians do with this information? Can they bear the weight of knowing that more graves will be found, knowing that more children didn’t come home to their families? What change will be demanded of our governments? What change will we demand of ourselves and each other?”

The Langley School District sent a message out to the school community encouraging students and staff to wear their orange T-shirts for at least this week.

“Wearing an orange shirt is a way to honour the survivors of residential schools and those that did not return,” said superintendent Gord Stewart. “It is an opportunity to create meaningful discussion about the effects of residential schools and the legacy they have left behind. It is one of many ways to demonstrate support and action as we move forward on our District’s Truth and Reconciliation journey.”

Langley City administrator Francis Cheung said the municipality has lowered flags in honour of the deceased children.

The City has also set up a memorial site in Douglas Park.

The Township has also announced it is lowering its flags at its facilities.

A social media campaign has also been started, encouraging people to put teddy bears on their front porches at 6 p.m. and leave their outside lights on for the evening of May 31.

• The B.C. Society of Indian Residential School Survivors is offering toll-free telephone support for survivors at 1-800-721-0066.

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RESIDENTIAL SCHOOLS IN CANADA

The schools started up in the 1880s to assimilate Indigenous peoples. Over the decades more than 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Metis children were sent to residential schools. There were 139 residential schools in Canada.

In the 1990s, the federal government and the churches that were paid to run the schools realized the need for change, closing the remaining schools. The last one closed in Saskatchewan in 1996.

The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples released its report in 1996, bringing attention to the residential school system for many non-Indigenous Canadians. It resulted in a $350 million plan to aid affected communities.

On June 11, 2008, the Canadian government gave a formal apology.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada released 94 recommendations in December 2015, covering language, culture, justice, health, education, reconciliation, school sites, and much more. The recommendations also touch on issues related to missing children and burial information, culturally sensitive commemorations, and reburial in home communities.

So far, Canada has acted upon 10 of the recommendations, according to the University of Alberta, but none relate to the children who died at schools.

READ the commission’s final report summary


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KamloopsTruth and Reconciliation Commission