Pamela Glode-Desrochers of Halifax's Mi'kmaw Native Friendship Centre appeared emotional on Thursday as she held up a blanket featuring 215 hearts, each representing an unmarked grave found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School near Kamloops, B.C.
The white and orange quilt was presented to Glode-Desrochers, executive director of the centre, during a ceremony marking the inaugural National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on the city's waterfront.
Cheyenne Hardy designed the quilt and explained it was a gift from the younger generation.
"I wanted to represent the ever-increasing numbers of bodies being found and recognize the hurt and the pain and the ... suffering the Indigenous peoples have endured over the years and continue to feel today," Hardy told the crowd.
"It's a gift that says 'We see you struggling and we want to wrap you in our love and understanding.'"
Hundreds of people were on hand for the event, many donning orange shirts — a symbol of remembrance of the Indigenous children who were removed from their families and forced to attend residential schools.
The blanket — which also features the phrases "Every Child Matters" and "We finally heard your whispers, not with our ears, but with our hearts" — will be displayed at the Mi'kmaw Native Friendship Centre on Gottingen Street.
After the ceremony, Glode-Derochers said the gesture demonstrates that today's youth are prepared to pick up the baton for the next generation.
"It actually shows that there is hope for the future," said Glode-Derochers as a drummer and singer played a traditional Mi'kmaw song nearby.
"These are the youth that are going to come together with us and they are going to move this forward in ways that we can only imagine right now."
She also said she feels there has been an "awakening" in Canada, and that National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is truly for everyone.
"There's more engagement from non-Indigenous peoples," she said.
"I think now, people are recognizing that it's very much a two-sided opportunity for us to truly come together and have some really good conversations and some tough conversations on the truth aspect of where we are and where we're going."
People held their heads during a two-minute and 15-second moment of silence in honour of the burial sites found on the grounds of former residential schools in Canada.
Though preliminary findings in May indicated there could be as many as 215 potential burial sites in Kamloops, archeological reports about excavations and assessments done in the same area in the late 1990s and early 2000s prompted ground-penetrating radar specialist Sarah Beaulieu to revise that number down to 200.
Plaque unveiled in Shubenacadie
The Halifax event also featured prayers and song, a number of speakers and painting and crafts on orange shirts.
On Friday, a traditional salmon dinner will be held on the waterfront as well as live entertainment. Saturday's event will include an open mic for artists, crafts for children and an pow wow dance demonstrations.
Elsewhere in Nova Scotia, a ceremony was held in Shubenacadie, N.S., to unveil a plaque commemorating the former Shubenacadie Indian Residential School as a place of national historic significance.
'A difficult part of our history,' says senator
Senator Dan Christmas explained the school was part of the Canadian residential school system, which aimed to assimilate Indigenous people, stripping them of their culture and heritage.
"This is a difficult part of our history," said Christmas, who became the first Mi'kmaw senator to be appointed to the Canadian Senate in December 2016.
He said the installation of the plaque "will help to educate all Canadians about the residential school system and its consequences and ensure this history is never forgotten or repeated."
The Shubenacadie Residential School operated from 1929 to 1967, and the building burned down years later. A plastics factory is now at the site.
'I see resilience,' says MP
As Kings-Hants MP Kody Blois took the podium, he told he audience he wanted to speak directly to residential school survivors and their descendants.
"Having grown up as a young man in this community, I did not know the full extent to what happened here.... There has been nothing in this area to give significance and credits to the trauma and harms that took place here," he said.
"As much trauma and tragedy that has existed from the schools, when I look out at all of us here today, I see resilience and I see the ability for us to move forward together."
The new heritage site features three maroon-coloured plaques with gold writing. Fall mums were placed near the site on Thursday, as well as several pairs of children's shoes.
Support is available for anyone affected by the effects of residential schools, and those who are triggered by the latest reports.
The Indian Residential School Survivors Society (IRSSS) can be contacted toll-free at 1-800-721-0066.
A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.
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