Three women who survived this country’s residential school system are heading west to honour the memory of those children who never made it back home.
On Monday morning, residential school survivors Geraldine Lee Shingoose, Vivian Ketchum and Chickadee Richard began the long drive from Winnipeg to Kamloops B.C., where they will deliver gifts in honour of children who are buried near the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.
The gifts will include ashes of a sacred fire that burned for days on the grounds of the Manitoba Legislative Building after the discovery of 215 unmarked graves in Kamloops.
Along the way, the women, who will be accompanied by a group of about 10 people, will stop at a number of areas to honour residential school survivors, and those who did not survive.
The group also plans to stop in Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan, where 751 unmarked graves were discovered near the former Marieval Indian Residential School.
Shingoose, who spent nine years in a residential school in Saskatchewan as a child, said she struggled with her emotions after the news of the graves in both B.C. and Saskatchewan was first reported.
“As a survivor, when I found out I broke down,” Shingoose said. “It certainly is emotional and very tragic to hear of all those little children that were found, and that is why it was so hard, but I have my supports, and those people who are always there for me.
“I don’t know what I would do without those supports.”
She said it is now important to personally present the gifts as a way to “honour the children.”
“These were just children, they were babies and they didn’t deserve what happened to them,” Shingoose said. “We are making this trip to honour all those little babies who didn’t come home, and to show that we are always thinking about them.”
Community members donated all of the items in the bundle, which also includes children’s moccasins, a child's star blanket, an eagle feather, a Treaty 1 territory flag, a Métis sash, an orange T-shirt, painted rocks, and a medicine bag.
— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun