The Walpole Island First Nation and Caldwell First Nation in southwestern Ontario have joined groups across Canada in mourning the discovery of a mass grave at a former residential school site in Kamloops, B.C.
"There's no way to really explain how you feel," Robyn Perkins, acting chief of the Caldwell First Nation, told the CBC.
"There are 215 babies and they were just discarded as if they didn't matter."
On Thursday, preliminary findings of a ground survey at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School showed the remains of 215 children. The chief of the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation said that to their knowledge, the remains they found were undocumented deaths.
"It hit me with a lot of anger and frustration that this injustice can just come up out of nowhere," said Derek Sands, communications co-ordinator for Walpole Island First Nation.
Sands said the Walpole Island community began honouring the children immediately after hearing the news, by gathering 215 pairs of children's shoes and placing them at the residential school monument in the community. It is also lowering the flags and has raised orange flags in recognition of the finding.
"It hits close to home, but I can't even imagine what the First Nation is feeling out West. It's so horrific what's happening, but Walpole Island stands with you and we want to support you in any way possible."
Canada must be held accountable for this system of horror. It is nothing short of crimes against humanity. - Derek Sands, Walpole Island First Nation
Perkins said beginning Tuesday morning, Caldwell First Nation will begin 215 hours of mourning. Those hours will also be marked with the lighting of a sacred flame, which will stay lit for the same amount of time.
"One hour for each of the innocent and loved souls that were found and discarded in such a vile way," she said.
It too will lower its flags to half-mast and flying orange flags to mark the discovery.
Calls on government
Sands said both the Canadian government and the churches need to be investigated by an international court for their roles in the residential school system.
"In a historical context, we regard the past treatment of our people, especially our women and children was next to genocide and a system of ethnic cleansing," he said.
"Canada must be held accountable for this system of horror, it is nothing short of crimes against humanity."
Perkins said the First Nation is calling on all levels of governments to lower their flags to commemorate the discovery of the remains.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens both announced they would be following through with lowering the flags on Sunday.
Impacts felt locally
Sands said the B.C. discovery is having an impact on him and WIFN members. He said his father just recently started to open up about his experiences at the Mohawk residential school in Brantford.
"It's really emotional every time he opens up. He says that that pain, that trauma that he experienced, all the abuse, it will always be there with him," said Sands. "It's affected us too, his children."
Both Sands and Perkins said there are supports in the community for people affected by the news. Sands said the Indian Residential School Survivor Society has a crisis line available 24/7 for anyone who needs counselling.
Perkins, who noted some of Caldwell's members attended Shingwauk Residential School in Sault Ste. Marie, said there would be healers and elders that members can speak with, and if not comfortable with that, people can also be set up with a counsellor.