Pairs of children’s shoes are being lined up on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery as part of a growing memorial to honour students that died at a former BC residential school.
It comes after the Tk’emlups te Secwépemc First Nation announced that ground-penetrating radar confirmed that the remains of 215 students from the Kamloops Indian Residential School are buried on its grounds.
Some of the children were as young as three years old, and the missing children are undocumented deaths, according to Kukpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir.
The Kamloops Indian Residential School operated from 1890 until 1978 and was the largest school in the Indian Affairs residential school system.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, the president of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC), said in a statement Friday there were “no words” to express the grief that First Nations people felt at the announcement — and they mourn with the Tk’emlups te Secwépemc and the families of the children who were lost.
“These were children – all belonging to a family, and community, and a Nation – who were forcibly stolen from their homes under the authority of the Canadian government, and never returned,” Phillip said.
“We call upon Canada, and all of those who call yourselves Canadians, to witness and recognize the truth of our collective history. This is the reality of the genocide that was, and is, inflicted upon us as Indigenous peoples by the colonial state.”
“Today we honour the lives of those children, and hold prayers that they, and their families, may finally be at peace.”
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada estimates at least 3,200 students died over 115 years as part of the residential school system.
NDP MLA Melanie Mark said she was “heartbroken and traumatized.”
“Words can’t describe the deep pain I feel for the families and Nations. These were children. This is what racism and genocide looks like,” she wrote on Instagram.
Justin Trudeau said in a message posted to social media that the discovery is “a painful reminder of that dark and shameful chapter of our country’s history.”
“I am thinking about everyone affected by this distressing news. We are here for you,” he said.