On Friday, about 224 people gathered in Rainy River First Nation to honour the 215 children found at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.
This is the second ceremony to be held in northwestern Ontario. The first was held in Couchiching three days following the discovery.
The discovery was made on May 27 when Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation said in a statement that with the help of ground penetrating radar specialist, the stark truth of the preliminary findings came to light. This was the confirmation of the remains of 215 children who were students at the Kamloops Indian Residential School.
Rainy River First Nation Chief Robin McGinnis, said the discovery in Kamloops affected everybody across Turtle Island.
“I know there are bodies in Thunder Bay,” McGinnis said. “I know there are bodies in Couchiching and Kenora. This is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s a huge black eye for Canada and we have to make them accountable. These are 215 babies that did not go home. When someone dies, we do four days of ceremony. How many days of ceremony did not happen for these children so they could reach over to the other side?”
The event took place at the Rainy River First Nation Indian Residential School Monument on Highway 11.
There were 215 crosses covered with orange t-shirts along the highway in order to give a visualization of what 215 bodies would look like lined up.
McGinnis said they stand in solidarity with their brothers and sisters in the West Coast. But this does not go without saying that they have demands for the Government of Canada.
“We want the Minister of Education to fund the development of curriculum across Canada for a factual history of what happened, not the watered-down version that we were taught,” McGinnis said. “If a three-year-old is old enough to go to residential school, a four-year-old is old enough to learn about residential school.”
Marcel Medicine Horton, committee member for the Manitou Rapids Indian Residential School Working Committee, said donations poured in from the United Church in Emo, Fort Frances Tribal Health Authority and Thread Shed, to mention a few.
Horton said they want to bring awareness to the issue, while calling for reconciliation measures from the government.
“Aside from [former] Prime Minister Harper’s empty apology, we need an apology from the Pope because he’s the head of the organization,” Horton said. “It was his agency, his agents that brought a lot of harm to our people along with the Canadian government.”
Horton said education about the genocide that happened in Canada is the first step to reconciliation.
“We need the church, those nuns and priests to be held accountable criminally. It will bring validation to the torture that we’ve lived through since 1906,” Horton said. “So many of our people have been considered liars because they said that would never ever happen in a residential school. They also said they would never ever find mass graves.”
The ceremony began with an opening prayer from Dorothy Medicine, a former residential school student. The drum ceremony was carried out by Albert Hunter, who sang five songs to honour the children.
McGinnis said they have an Indian Residential School Survivor Group that has been very active in supporting one another.
“This overwhelming support that they’re seeing here is going to be healing for them,” McGinnis said. “Every time they think about it, the pain comes back. “They know people who just went missing and they said they ran away, or they went home. But they were never heard from again. It just breaks my heart.”
Twelve of the 14 people on the Manitou Rapids Indian Residential School Working Committee have gone to residential school.
Horton said the coming together is not meant to traumatize people, but they also do not want to be in this position again.
“Our people need an apology,” Horton said. “We need an apology to allow us to heal and move forward. We have generations of people that are carrying trauma. Reconciliation is sharing. I would like to tell you what’s on my plate. I would like to know what’s on your plate. That’s the only way we’re going to improve relations in this country.”