A display of shoes, candles and toys placed on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery two years ago to honour Indigenous children has been taken down, but not according to the city's plan.
The city planned to dismantle the memorial Friday, a decision it said was made with the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh organizers and artists who created the memorial.
But when staff showed up Friday morning, the majority of the items had already been removed.
The city said in a statement the items were brought to an undisclosed location by First Nations volunteers connected to the memorial — which was not part of the process agreed upon with the organizers and artists.
"Given this unexpected development, we are working on next steps with our partners at the Nations and staff to bring this work to closure in a good way."
The city said staff are following First Nations teachings and that "the staff who have started this process will see it to the end, performing the private burning ceremony in a few days' time."
Haida artist Tamara Bell created the memorial in late May 2021 after the suspected graves of 215 children were identified near the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.
Bell arranged 215 pairs of shoes on the southern steps of the art gallery to represent the children believed to have died. Following their removal Friday, she says she has no idea where the items are now.
The discovery began a national reckoning over Canada's past and its treatment of Indigenous people. Many other nations have since made additional discoveries of potential burial sites across the country.
In a statement Wednesday, Bell said the volunteers protecting the memorial, a second First Nations group known as the "vigil keepers," have been subjected to "threats of violence, racist rants and aggression" since the city made public its intentions to take the memorial down.
Last November, the city called for the memorial's removal, saying it had not granted formal permission for its installation.
In March, the city repeated its message and stressed the importance of the memorial's removal before the two-year anniversary of its creation on May 28.
Bell said in a statement talks between the city and the Vancouver Art Gallery have resulted in plans for a healing park to be established on the gallery's south side.
"The park, situated on sacred and unceded land of the Coastal Salish, is to be designated a site for healing and is
also intended to encourage the important work of Indigenous artists."