Nanaimo gathered together to share sadness and remembrance a few days after the remains of 215 children were found buried outside a Kamloops residential school.
A vigil was held Sunday, May 30, at Maffeo Sutton Park, attended by a few hundred people.
Snuneymuxw Chief Mike Wyse expressed thanks to those who gathered to try to “lift each other” and give each other strength.
“It’s a very trying time for our people. We all have family members that went through that devastating time in our history,” Wyse said. “To have this news come forward … it’s like bringing that sorrow back to life, all those sad memories.”
The discovery of the remains in Kamloops was confirmed Thursday, May 27, by the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation.
Greg Charleson, a Hesquiaht First Nation elder who attended Christie residential school in Tofino in the late 1970s and early ’80s, said learning of the children’s remains found in Kamloops “triggered me again in a sad, sad way.”
He asked all British Columbians and Canadians to support each other and recognize the grief and sorrow that families and communities are feeling.
“My prayers, my heart and my thoughts are with those families of those children. Not just those families, but those children and their spirits, and how your prayers, how your love, how your concern is going to bring them home to where they need to be. They need to be with their ancestors in the sky, not stuck, traumatized, to the ground,” Charleson said. “They need your prayers.”
Nanaimo-Ladysmith MP Paul Manly said the residential school system was meant as cultural genocide and was “very intentional.” He said it’s caused trauma and there is a lot of work to be done as far as truth and reconciliation.
He mentioned Parliament’s vote last week to advance to the Senate a bill to align Canada’s laws with the United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.
“It needs to be more than words. It needs to be actions. It needs to be deeds. It needs to be how we live our lives and how we work together in our communities,” Manly said.
Organizers asked vigil attendees to bring teddy bears and donations to Kw’umut Lelum child and family services.
At the end of Sunday’s vigil in Nanaimo, 215 roses were floated in the ocean close to Sway’ A’ Lana Lagoon.
The City of Nanaimo will lower flags to half-staff in recognition to the children who died at the residential school in Kamloops.
“We stand united in grief with our Indigenous friends and neighbours all across the country to honour the lives of those children, their families, survivors and all children who never made it home from this dark chapter of our history,” said Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog in a statement.
The B.C. Society of Indian Residential School Survivors is offering toll-free telephone support for survivors at 1-800-721-0066. The National Indian Residential School Crisis Line is available 24 hours a day at 1-866-925-4419.