Blowing in the wind, orange ribbons are tied along the chain-link fence outside of Princess Margaret Public School (PMPS).
The ribbons are part of a memorial started by the school’s Grade 7/8 students, in honour of the 1,148 Indigenous children recently discovered in mass unmarked graves.
“I find it important that we showed support of the Indigenous community, and that we didn’t only learn this in the classrooms,” said grade 7 student, Nicolas Watson, about the memorial. “We tie these ribbons on our fence to show our support for them, and that we do stand with them.”
When 215 Indigenous children were discovered in a mass unmarked grave at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in B.C at the end of May, PMPS Grade 7/8 teacher Tracey Mikulik met virtually with her students to discuss the tragic discovery.
“They’re at the age where they’re mature enough to discuss these hard conversations we need to have,” said Mikulik. “One of the main questions that I ask them is why do you care. To me you can learn a lot of things, but it’s not until you start caring about it, that you’re willing to make a difference. That’s where we’re trying to get this generation because this generation is going to make sure it never happens again, but they need to care about it, not just know about it.”
“We need to be aware of what happened and we need to learn this, to not make the same mistakes,” said Cailley Copeland.
During the student led discussion, the topic of graduation was brought up, with students noting how the discovered Indigenous children, unlike them, never saw or would see an elementary school graduation.
“It’s not fair that kids had to go through this,” said graduate Mackenzie Arseneau. “We should respect and honour the kids, who have gone through this.”
As part of their graduation, each individual Grade 8 student was given an orange ribbon to tie on the fence at the front of the school as well as their families. The memorial grew after students returning to pick up school items began to tie their own ribbons.
Rachael March, one of this year’s PMPS graduates spoke with the Citizen about the generational divide in knowledge of residential schools.
“My parents and I were talking and they never learned about residential schools while they were in school. It’s important for us to learn about it, to know what happened, and how we can help,” said March.
The students add that they hope the memorial will not only honour the Indigenous children and residential school survivors, but will bring further knowledge to the greater community.
“Hopefully we can send a message to the older generations, that don’t know about the residential schools,” said Joel Bactowar, graduate.
Fellow graduate, Kariah Noel noted that, “We’re showing people to care more about Indigenous people.”
On June 24, the unmarked graves of 751 Indigenous children were identified by the Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan, and on July 1 the Lower Kootenay Band discovered 182 unmarked graves at the former St. Eugene’s Mission residential school near Cranbrook, B.C.
The Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement (IRSSA) recognizes 139 residential schools across Canada, but excludes schools without federal support such as those run by provincial governments.
The last residential school in Canada closed in 1996.
Immediate support is available for those affected by the residential school system, the National Residential School Crisis Line is available 24 hours a day at 1-866-925-4419.
Paula Brown, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Shelburne Free Press