Empty pairs of shoes being placed at Hollinger Park are a reminder that “children should be in those shoes,” according to Debbie Proulx-Buffalo.
The shoes, an orange T-shirt and toys were laid inside the clock tower at the Timmins park on Sunday to pay tribute to the 215 children whose remains were found in an unmarked grave at Kamloops Indian Residential School, which operated between 1890 and 1969.
Today, flags were lowered in Timmins and across the country in honour of the children.
People can continue bringing pairs of shoes and other items to the memorial at the park. The goal is to collect 215 pairs. People are reminded to avoid gatherings when going to the memorial. People are also encouraged to put out teddy bears tonight.
Debbie Proulx-Buffalo, who’s from the Cree Nation of Waskaganish, said the news didn’t come as a shock to her and her friends as they know about residential schools and what happened to children at them.
When non-Indigenous people think about residential schools, they tend to think it was over a century ago, Proulx-Buffalo said, noting the last federally-funded residential school in Canada, Gordon's Indian Residential School, closed in 1996.
All residential school areas need to be checked to find all the children that have been missing, she said.
“Our children should be able to live and have those successes and not live with racism,” Proulx-Buffalo said.
Proulx-Buffalo's mother was taken to Moose Factory’s Bishop Horden Memorial School when she was four and a half years old and stayed there for 11 years. Proulx-Buffalo said her mother, who has passed away, told her it used to be lonely and “very strict” at the school.
"She said you had to be very careful not to get them upset because you would go to bed without eating. And she said you didn't want to miss a meal because you're already hungry, so if you missed the meal, then you're hungrier," Proulx-Buffalo said.
Attawapiskat's George Rose was taken as a young child to St. Anne’s residential school in Fort Albany. He spent nine years there and he lost several friends at the school, including his friend Charlie Hunter. His mother was a survivor as well.
For Rose, dancing has been a part of the healing journey and he dances for all residential school survivors.
Rose’s partner Holly Buffalo Rodrique said residential schools have left a huge impact on Indigenous communities. She said she’d like to see May 31 recognized as a national day of mourning.
“We all recognize the tragic heartbreak that the Canadian residential school system has enforced upon so many. Our thoughts are with all who are mourning thousands of, mostly Indigenous, children who were separated from their families and forced to attend these schools,” she said. “By standing together and bringing awareness to this horrific tragedy, it has an effect on a lot of emotions.”
There is a 24-hour residential school crisis line available at 1-866-925-4419.
Dariya Baiguzhiyeva, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, TimminsToday.com