WARNING: This story contains distressing details.
The Lheidli T'enneh First Nation wants an impromptu memorial for victims of Canada's residential school system to be turned into a permanent monument in the city of Prince George, B.C.
Over the past week people have been leaving shoes, stuffed animals and other items on the steps of city hall after the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation said preliminary findings from a survey of the grounds at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School uncovered what they believe to be the remains of 215 children. Similar memorials have been set up across Canada.
Lheidli T'enneh chief Dolleen Logan said the tributes are important to all Indigenous people and has invited the Exploration Place museum to store the items while a permanent display space is found.
"It's for the kids, the 215," she said. "It's important not just to recognize, but to honour them."
On Tuesday, Logan participated in a flag-lowering ceremony at city hall and asked that the Lheidli T'enneh flag be kept at half mast for 215 days.
While there, she spoke about her relatives — including her mother — who spent time at the Lejac Residential School northwest of Prince George, and the impact it had on them and their families.
Lejac Residential School was open from 1922 until 1976 and survivors have spoken about abuse and mistreatment. Among them is Lheidli T'enneh Elder Clifford Quaw who was forcibly taken to the school when he was five years old, in 1953.
"This was not a school," Quaw told CBC this week. "I experienced physical, mental, emotional, sexual abuse. All of these."
Today, Quaw speaks to classrooms about his experience and the years of trauma that followed. Quaw said he believes it is important to speak to younger generations so that the reality of residential schools will never be forgotten, a sentiment Logan agrees with.
"This conversation can never end," she said. "Once we have a monument up it will be a permanent reminder not to stop having that conversation."
Logan said the museum has agreed to store the items and that she has started talks with the city and regional district about where a permanent memorial can be created.
Support is available for anyone affected by the lingering effects of residential schools, and those who are triggered by the latest reports.
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.