Robson Square residential school memorial likely to be taken down soon
Editor’s note: This article discusses residential schools. An Indian Residential School Survivors Society Emergency Crisis Line is available 24/7 to provide counselling and support. You can call 1-800-721-0066 or the 24-hour crisis line at 1-866-925-4419.
The steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery have been the site of a temporary memorial since the remains of 215 children were found at the site of a residential school in the spring of 2021.
The findings had a profound impact on Indigenous communities, bringing attention and urgency to the need for Truth and Reconciliation in Canada.
Nearly two years after the memorial was set up, the City of Vancouver said it’s working with Indigenous Nations to bring the memorial to an end and start to make progress towards a new, permanent memorial ahead of the second anniversary.
On Friday, March 31, the City provided an update on the temporary residential school memorial, saying that it remained “committed to bringing the temporary residential school memorial on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery to an imminent close in a culturally respectful way. ”
Previously, on November 30, 2022, the City asked the artist who began the site and the volunteers who kept vigil to bring the memorial to a conclusion.
The decision is supported by xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations.
The City invited the artist and volunteers to a private meeting on Friday to talk about the next steps.
According to the City, the temporary memorial “cannot remain on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery.” The City said it will work with xʷməθkʷəy̓əm, Sḵwx̱wú7mesh, and səlilwətaɬ Nations and Urban Indigenous communities to create a more permanent and culturally appropriate memorial.
Until then, the City said it’s going to work with volunteers and the artist to find “interim spaces to heal and explore temporary vigils to grieve, opportunities for ongoing education and raising awareness of residential schools, and continue supporting Indigenous markets.”
Why they want to remove the memorial
The City provided additional cultural context that helps explain why the removal of the memorial is important, particularly to local Indigenous Nations.
It was first created in response to the “profound need for grieving and healing spaces for residential school survivors and Indigenous Peoples” after news of finding the remains of 215 children in 2021.
But the continuation of the memorial isn’t aligned with the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm, Sḵwx̱wú7mesh, and səlilwətaɬ Nations. According to their spiritual practices, cultural protocols, and teachings, “as long as the memorial remains, the spirits of the children will remain tethered to the items placed on the steps and cannot move on.”
According to the City, it has a responsibility to recognize local Indigenous Nation’s cultural protocols. The City said it should have acted sooner to end the memorial as soon as it became aware that local Nations were not consulted and hadn’t given permission for the memorial to be installed in the first place.
“Therefore, it is of great importance and urgency that the temporary memorial end and ceremony is held to allow the 215 children to complete their journey,” said the City.