Students and teachers at Ma Murray Community School in Fort St. John are honouring the 215 Kamloops Indian Residential School victims this week with a new mural and 215 marigold flowers planted in their memory.
Kindergarten teacher Matthew McColm took it upon himself to paint the mural in recognition of the tragic discovery. He says he wanted to go beyond a classroom lesson for his students.
“It’s important for me to model behaviour that the kids can learn. I felt I wanted the message shared in a way that I was comfortable sharing, and in a way that was more permanent than a lesson,” said McColm. “And in a way that was a visible – not just for my students."
McColm’s hand-painted mural features a firebird, a symbol in various Indigenous cultures — and the school’s mascot. He was exposed to First Nations culture at a young age growing up on reserve in Terrace, home to the Nisga’a people.
“I think people don’t appreciate or don’t remember that this is a preliminary report, the true horror won’t be known until the report is finalized. And that’s just for one school,” McColm said of the 215 children that were found.
Brittany Mycock, an Indigenous student support worker, says the school's values align with the Seven Sacred Teachings held by many First Nations: Love, Respect, Courage, Honesty, Wisdom, Humility, and Truth.
Mycock is member of the Carrier First Nations from the Vanderhoof area, home to Stoney Creek or Saik'uz people.
“Each month, we have a new virtue. This month is the last virtue, truth. And to know truth, you need to know all of the Seven Sacred teachings,” said Mycock, noting posters have been created with animals that embody each virtue.
A moment of silence was also held today, she added.
“It really hit home to a lot of my older students. There were a lot of tears, anger, and sadness,” said Maycock. "We’re a community at this school, and we all work together and support each other."
Principal Kathy Scheck says the Ma Murray school community has always practiced compassion and understanding. The school planted 215 marigolds in its garden bed, one for each of the children found.
“Our school is multicultural. The biggest theme this year is empathy, and we’ve woven that into a lot of what we do,” said Scheck.
“We have students in our schools whose grandparents or great grand-parents were part of the residential school system, and staff members whose grandmothers were at the schools, so it hits close to home for our students."
Tom Summer, Local Journalism Initiative, Alaska Highway News