Eganville -- Orange shirts bearing Native symbolism and children’s shoes and boots set on the steps of St. James the Less Parish were part of a solemn local effort to show respect and remembrance for the 215 indigenous children whose little bodies were found buried at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School on the Tk’emlups te Secwépemc First Nation on May 27.
The quiet moments of mourning drew some fifty people to the church at six o’clock on Monday May 31 while the church bell tolled for the evening Angelus Dei prayers.
Chloe Angus and Georgia Heideman, students at St. James Elementary School which has a strong Indigenous presence, had lettered “Every Child Matters” and chalked hearts on the concrete steps. St. James Principal, Maureen Enright, explained the orange shirts have been part of an on-going school effort to acknowledge the historic injustices of the many Residential Schools that were under the authority of the Catholic Church. The Renfrew County Catholic District School Board, in collaboration with its Indigenous Education Advisory Committee, will hold a day of mourning on June 2nd to honour the 215 children who lost their lives. Like other schools within the Renfrew County Catholic District School Board, the St. James flag is lowered to half mast.
Emily Peters Woolley who lives at Pikwakanagan with husband Ryan Peters and their two small children, Gabriella, age 2, and 7-month-old Lilliana, watched the growing memorial. She said, “It’s a touching gesture but it doesn’t change what happened.”
Having young children of mixed heritage, she expressed hope creating awareness of these tragic events will bring real and lasting change.
Eganville parish priest Rev. Ken O’Brien, who is also parish priest of Our Lady of the Nativity church at Pikwakanagan, said that the two parishes will be offering special prayers for the victims including a Mass at Our Lady of the Nativity at Pikwakanagan at 9 am on June 6. He expressed his support of the efforts to commemorate the lives lost and damaged during this terrible time and welcomed the placement of commemorative shoes on the front steps of St. James.
“Upon hearing the news of the discovery of the mass grave containing the remains of 215 young people, my prayers and thoughts turned to those young souls and how much they suffered. The next group of people who entered my mind to pray for were their relatives. Today and always, we must stand together in solidarity and love,” Father O’Brien said.
The Kamloops Indian Residential School was in operation from 1890 to 1969, when the federal government took over administration from the Catholic Church to operate it as a day school, until closing it in 1978.
Up to 500 students from First Nations communities across BC and beyond would have been registered at the school at any given time, according to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR). It is estimated more than 150,000 children attended residential schools in Canada from the 1830’s until the last school closed in 1996.
The NCTR estimates about 4,100 children died at the schools, based on death records, but has said the true total is likely much higher. The NCTR said large numbers of Indigenous children who were forcibly sent to residential schools never returned home.
The Indian Residential School Survivors Society has called on the federal government and the Catholic Church to be held responsible for the deaths that occurred in Kamloops.
Students and staff at St. James Catholic School plan a virtual Reconciliation Walk to raise awareness and show compassion by collectively walking the 3,976 km distance between Eganville and the Kamloops Indian Residential School between now and June 21.
ohanna Zomers, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader