Every Child Matters: “It’s about finding a way to make it right”

·4 min read

Saying “sorry” doesn’t cut it unless it is followed up by “meaningful action.”

These were among the powerful words delivered at Town Park on Sunday evening at a socially-distant vigil by the Aurora Black Community in vigil following the discovery of 215 Indigenous children in unmarked graves on the grounds of a residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia.

On June 6, dozens of residents came out to Town Park, many donning orange shirts, a symbolic act of raising awareness of what happened within the residential school system, to mourn the tragic loss recently uncovered and help chart a path forward.

“We’re here today to commemorate those 215 children that were dumped in a mass grave like garbage – that hurts a lot,” said Traditional Anishinaabe Grandmother Kim Wheatley, who is Turtle Clan and carries the Spirit Name “Head or Leader of the Fire Flower”, who led Sunday night’s event. “Those children were as young as three years old. The government said they didn’t take children that young, but their bodies are there.”

Sunday, she said, was not about the government per se, rather it was to honour the children, their families, and their nations.

“We’re still here and we ask for your compassion at this time. But more than that, we ask you to step forward and to do something in solidarity with us. This is not just a story – these are children; children who were denied the right to go home to their parents,” she continued.

The night of solidarity was an example of the community stepping forward to do something.

It was spearheaded by Shruti Kalyanaraman, a member of the Aurora Black Community Facebook group.

As a “rainbow mother,” Ms. Kalyanaraman says when she learned about the discovery in Kamloops, she was taken back to 2013 when she lost her own child. She had the closure, she says, of burying her child, but that was not afforded to the parents of the children discovered this spring.

“We were all devastated,” she says of the Aurora Black Community membership, “simply as moms, if no one else. I just wanted to reach out to my community, which has been very inclusive… on how we could grieve together. You can see the response – so many people have come here to support each other, here on a Sunday night. I am sure this will all help us grieve.”

The thread of grief was a thread woven into Ms. Wheatley’s poignant words.

“I want to give thanks to the fact those bodies were found because it gives us time to repatriate them in the way they should have been in the first place,” she said. “It gives us time to honour and remember them. It gives us time to validate those families who said, ‘My child is missing.’

“It is not about finger-pointing; it is about finding a way to make it right. We need to do that together. Even if you feel that you, as a single person, don’t make a difference, that is not true. You are all grains of sand on the beach of change and we need you. I am so, so happy to see the number of people here today.

“It is 2021. The last residential school closed in 1996. It is not very long ago. The laws to keep our children in residential school are unique to us. Sorry doesn’t cut it unless you follow it up with some sort of meaningful action. We got a public apology about this, but we haven’t received the help we need to date from the Federal Government, Provincial Government, or from individuals like you. It costs money to dig up a body. It costs money to have forensics determine who that child is, who they belong to, and take them back to the communities they belong to. We need your help with that. We need your help with things like therapy, and I know communities can step forward in that way. We’re waiting to see when that can happen.

“It is not about money; it is about righting a wrong that shouldn’t have happened.”

There are no words, she added, to help Canadians understand how it feels, but a good step forward is becoming familiar with the 94 recommendations that came out of the final report offered by the Truth & Reconciliation Commission.

“It is strange to [all of a sudden be] standing her realizing that I am talking about our traditional ways in an open way, that I don’t have to look to whether I am going to be arrested or get a ticket or go to jail. That was the way it was not so long ago,” she concluded. “In the 70s, they were still arresting us. In the 80s, they were still arresting us. We’re in 2021 and I feel pretty brave standing up here all by myself with my medicine (tobacco), my feather, speaking the truth. Feeling like I am being heard by all of you in a way that truly matters. That is really important to me. We have been silenced for centuries and we have offered nothing but kindness, love, care, respect.”

Brock Weir, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Auroran