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.
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?”
My family & friends shared their stories of Residential School @LangleySchools over 26 yrs! My Mom Maureen & her siblings, Josette Dandurand, Kevin & Marilyn, Mercy Thomas, Auntie Helen Carr They shared their pain so you could learn about these horrible schools #honourthem pic.twitter.com/2xVaTpIY8D
— Donna Robins (@donna_robins) May 30, 2021
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 grieves for the 215 children whose remains were found, and all others who lost their lives to the residential school system. Flags will be half-masted, and for those who wish to pay their respects, a vigil has been set up in Douglas Park until further notice. pic.twitter.com/mweJO8k2Ak
— Langley City (@LangleyCity_) May 31, 2021
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.
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.
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