Vigil at Queen’s Park honours the 215 Indigenous children found in Kamloops

Jun 8, 2021 | GTA News, Headlines, News

Hundreds came together at Queens Park on June 6 to honour the 215 Indigenous children whose remains were discovered in residential school property in Kamloops, B.C.

“We are here to honour every child that didn’t make it home,” said Jimmy Dick said during the opening prayer as his voice cracked with emotion. “We are in pain. We are hurting,”

Dick cried. He explained the horrific stories of his family members shared with him about what happened at residential schools.

“Our people are forever impacted by the trauma and physical and sexual abuse our people had to endure,” he said. “There are so many children that didn’t come home.”

Brianna Olson-Pitawanakwat organized the event called “Bring Our Children Home” and said it’s purpose was to bring Indigenous people, allies and survivors together.

“With the recent news of finding the 215 children, many residential school survivors are faced with past trauma,” she said.

“We want them to know that as a community, we are here for them. The 215 children represent stories of our survivors that have talked about children never coming home or being murdered,” Olson-Pitawanakwat said.

“These children never received a proper burial,” she said. “It’s very dehumanizing. They deserved more. We deserve more than this. We deserve answers. We reserve the right to know what happened.”

Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Nation (Kamloops Indian Band) discovered the children remains on May 27 while using ground-penetrating radar at the residential school.

Shoes and flowers laid beneath Egerton Ryerson statue at Ryerson University. The shoes represent the children's that didn't make it home.

Shoes and flowers laid beneath Egerton Ryerson statue at Ryerson University. The shoes represent the children's that didn't make it home. Photo credit: Jennifer Kozak

However, because the children’s deaths were never documented, the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Nation is currently working with museum specialists and the coroner’s office to establish the cause and timing of each child’s death.

Kamloops Indian Residential School was the largest school in the residential system. It opened under Roman Catholic administration in 1890, and the school had as many as 500 students.

“We want other residential schools to be dug up. In Ontario, we had another big residential school right by Six Nations. Mohawk Residential school, along with all the others, need to be checked,” Dick said.

“These 215 children no longer need to wander this earth hoping to find a home. They can rest in peace now,” he said while breaking down.

The crowd marched from Queen’s Park to X University, formally known as Ryerson University, where dancers and singers performed in solidarity with the 215 children.

Ryerson University due to role that

Ryerson University is being called X University by students and faculty. The downtown Toronto university is named after Egerton Ryerson, who played a major role in creating residential schools. Photo credit: Jennifer Kozak

Later that evening, Egerton Ryerson’s statue faced its fate when protesters dismantled and beheaded one of the architects of Canada’s residential school programs.

The university’s President and Vice-Chancellor Mohamed Lachemi said in a letter that the statue would not be restored or replaced.

“I believe the way to move forward on sensitive, contentious topics is by being consultative, inclusive, respectful and thorough,” he said.

Rose Sutherland is happy that the statue is finally gone.

“It must have been painful for Indigenous people to walk by that statue and know what Egerton was responsible for,” Sutherland said. “As a white woman, I learned a lot about what he did, and I can’t believe we had a school named after him.

“I’m a 78-year-old woman, and for more than 40 years, I’ve been an ally,” she said. “I had a best friend who was Indigenous. She ended up taking her own life because the pain she lived with each day was a lot for her carry.

“I’m here to honour her life today. Boy, I miss her. She was the best friend a girl can ask for,” Sutherland said.

Shoes and flowers laid beneath Egerton Ryerson statue at Ryerson University. The shoes represent the children's that didn't make it home.

Shoes and flowers laid beneath Egerton Ryerson statue at Ryerson University. The shoes represent the children's that didn't make it home. Photo credit: Jennifer Kozak

Shoes and flowers laid beneath Egerton Ryerson statue at Ryerson University. The shoes represent the children's that didn't make it home.

Shoes and flowers laid beneath Egerton Ryerson statue at Ryerson University. The shoes represent the children's that didn't make it home. Photo credit: Jennifer Kozak

“I hope she’s watching us right now. I hope she’s at peace.”