A Membertou woman is collecting shoes to add an art installation to the community's Truth and Healing Garden.
Shoes have been used as a symbol to represent the graves recently found at residential schools in Canada.
Shoes — 215 pairs in all — were left on the steps of the former Roman Catholic church in Membertou after the initial discovery of graves in Kamloops, B.C.
All of those shoes, plus hundreds more, have been donated to the installation.
Katie Hodder, owner of Family Heirblooms in Membertou, is behind the project. She said the garden can be an entrance for all people to learn the history of Indigenous Canadians.
"The only way we're ever going to get through this is if we all acknowledge it, we all feel it and we all learn to heal together," said Hodder.
The plan is to dip all of the shoes in cement and install them as a permanent piece that will create the border to the garden.
Hodder is not Indigenous, but she married into an Indigenous family. She said the project is emotional for her because she imagines if her own daughter would have been in these situations.
"There's an extra layer of worry just because of her background," said Hodder. "That's why I came up with this idea."
The garden is located at the Membertou Heritage Park, located near busts of Grand Chief Membertou, Donald Marshall Sr. and Donald Marshall Jr. People are still donating shoes as well as teddy bears and other stuffed animals.
Jeff Ward, the general manager of the heritage park, said when Hodder asked if she could set up the art installation he immediately approved.
"This is exactly what I prayed for," said Ward.
Ward is the son of a residential school survivor.
He said he was never taught the history of those schools and didn't know much about it growing up. He hopes the garden can be a starting point for people to educate themselves on Indigenous history.
"Coming together and learning about that in a good way, like this is a good way of learning about that history," said Ward.
Hodder said the hope is to have all the shoes installed by the end of the month and a public event sometime later.
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