In the wake of the discovery of a mass grave of 215 Indigenous children in B.C., municipal and community leaders are offering their condolences and encouraging individuals to learn more about the legacy of residential schools.
“During our moment of reflection I would like us all to remember the 215 children whose remains were found at the site of the Kamloops Indian residential school,” said Alar Soever, mayor of the Town of the Blue Mountains (TBM) during a council meeting held earlier this week.
“I understand the flags at the town hall have been lowered in their memory and so as we pause for a moment of reflection, I urge that we remember these children who are very much a part of our First Nations heritage,” Soever continued.
TBM is located within the boundary of Treaty 18 region of 1818, which is the traditional land of the Anishnaabek, Haudenosaunee and Wendat-Wyandot-Wyandotte peoples.
During the council meeting, Soever extended his deepest condolences to all Indigenous communities during this difficult time.
At the Grey Highlands council meeting held on Wednesday afternoon, councillor Dane Nielson used his councillor privilege to speak on the issue.
“I know we're a local council and there's nothing specifically we can do, but I am hopeful that more discussion is happening, more conversations are happening to try to reconcile and try to uncover all the ugliness that has happened so that it can be addressed,” Nielson said.
Grey Highlands councillor Danielle Valiquette thanked him for raising the issue.
“I think it's so important for little councils like ours, who may seem far away from the issue, that we talk about it because clearly reconciliation is not an easy path. And clearly, we have much work ahead of us,” Valiquette said.
Both municipalities have lowered their flags at town hall to half mast for 215 hours or nine days as a sign of respect and acknowledgement.
In addition, the CEO of the Blue Mountains Public Library (BMPL) also made a specific point of addressing the issue.
“Our hearts go out to the community and all survivors of the Residential School System and their families at this time,” said Dr. Sabrina Saunders, CEO of the BMPL. “One thing that we can do as a public library is to make our community aware and remember this incident for the foreseeable future.”
To accomplish this, both branches of BMPL have hung 215 ribbons on their front entrances to remember the 215 lives lost.
The ribbon memorial display can be found on the front entrance of the L.E. Shore Branch facing Bruce Street. A second display is at Craigleith Heritage Depot’s front lawn. The ribbons will remain onsite through National Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21.
“We also acknowledge that there are First Nations children yet to be found across the country’s residential school sites, as well as thousands of other residents who were lost as a result of the conditions in the Residential School’s and that legacy,” Saunders continued.
Canada oversaw more than 130 residential schools founded in the 1800’s. Although this is often viewed as a dark chapter in Canadian history, the last school closed in 1996, and the effects of these events are still felt today.
Saunders implores government officials to continue to listen to Indigenous voices and survivors.
“We encourage the continued use of the ground penetrating radar used at Kamloops at all former Residential School sites, as well as the achievement of the Truth and Reconciliation’s 94 Call to Action. Every Child Matters,” she said, adding that the BMPL recognizes its role in educating the community and supporting initiatives such as Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls and EveryChildMatters.
Saunders encourages community members to use library and museum resources to learn more about this issue.
Jennifer Golletz, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, CollingwoodToday.ca