WARNING: This story contains distressing details.
When Abegweit First Nation Chief Junior Gould thinks about the bodies of the 215 children found buried at a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C., he thinks too about his own father, who attended a residential school in Nova Scotia.
"What if he was buried in one of those unmarked graves? That means Chief Gould would not exist. That would mean my daughter, who is a nurse, would not exist," said Gould.
Gould said it's important for the community to honour those lost children, so he's asking people on P.E.I. to donate children's shoes.
The plan is to pile 215 pairs of them outside the First Nation's administration offices as a memorial. The site will also feature mock graves, and residential school survivors are expected take part in a ceremony there Monday afternoon, if enough shoes have been collected by then.
"We're going to do it as a First Nation honour to our children who are in unmarked graves across the country," he said.
Gould said the shoes will be set up in a way to respect the lives lost and hopefully spark discussion.
He said the tragedies that happened in residential schools are well-known within Indigenous communities. But he is hoping this creates a larger discussion outside First Nation communities.
"When these stories are validated by an actual grave site, it's hard to ignore," he said. "What I want to do is continue the story and engage the community, the public, to get involved with it."
By getting more people involved in understanding the past, he hopes more people will be part of the solution in the future.
"I think it is very important we do something," he said. "I think it is important that we have this opportunity right now to educate the community."
Premier Dennis King announced Sunday evening that like the federal government, the province will be lowering the flags at government administrative buildings and schools to half mast until sunset on June 8.
The Island's Epekwitk Assembly of Councils, which oversees and governs organizations that act in the shared interest of Abegweit First Nation and Lennox Island First Nation, released a statement Sunday.
"This event reopens a wound that has barely had a chance to start to heal, for these families and all First Nations of Turtle Island," the statement said.
"Let Canada remember that the pain felt and the loss caused by Residential schools still exists, and is very real."
Note: Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools, and those who are triggered by the latest reports. A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.
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