Orange crosswalks commemorate children who attended residential schools

Wyler Diome-Montour recently graduated from the Parsons School of Design in New York City.   (Ka’nhehsí:io Deer/CBC - image credit)
Wyler Diome-Montour recently graduated from the Parsons School of Design in New York City. (Ka’nhehsí:io Deer/CBC - image credit)

To commemorate the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation last year, Kanien'kehá:ka (Mohawk) artist Wyler Diome-Montour designed T-shirts for his community.

This year, he had the idea to do something that would be even more visible to honour residential school survivors and children who never returned home: design bright orange crosswalks.

"In the grand scheme of things, it's a small gesture but every gesture counts," said Diome-Montour, who is from Kahnawake, south of Montreal.

Diome-Montour graduated recently from the Parsons School of Design in New York City and approached his father, who works at the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake, about the idea. The organization jumped on board.

Just under a dozen crosswalks throughout Kahnawake, most surrounding local elementary schools, were repainted bright orange with stencils of white eagle feathers on Wednesday.

Ka’nhehsí:io Deer/CBC
Ka’nhehsí:io Deer/CBC

"The eagle feather is a symbol of strength and of healing and protection," said Diome-Montour.

"When we're talking about protecting children, protecting the legacy of children, and caring for those that have experienced this trauma ... it just felt right just to make a design like that."

Similar crosswalk have also appeared this week in downtown Kitchener, Ont., and Fredericton.

The fresh paint outside Leo Hayes High School in Fredericton is about raising awareness and creating allies, said guidance counsellor Juliana Paul, who is Wolastoqey from Sitansisk (St. Mary's First Nation).

"Inclusion and representation are super important especially as we remember and mourn during this week," she said.

"In order to move forward, we have to reflect on our past and it's important that we have these symbolic representations so that we can learn to move forward in a good way."

Edwin Hunter/CBC
Edwin Hunter/CBC

In Kahnawake, two of the schools where the new crosswalks are painted were once Indian day schools. Like the residential school system, Indian day schools also aimed to assimilate Indigenous children while eradicating Indigenous languages and cultures, and often had religious affiliations.

Today, the community operates the schools.

"You have to be creative when it comes to creating awareness because there are flags and shirts, but crosswalks — you're talking about the safety of children who are crossing the street to go to school," said Joe Delaronde, press attaché at the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake.

"The symbolism is incredible."