Somber and moving tributes have been set up at Delta Municipal Hall in Ladner and throughout the city to remember the 215 First Nations children whose remains were found buried at the site of the former Kamloops residential school last week.
Pairs of small shoes to honour the young lives were laid out by members of the public on the steps of municipal hall Monday as a steady stream of people arrived to pay their respects.
Offering smudging, traditionally a ceremony for purifying or cleansing the soul, for those who attended, Tonia Lenti, a member of the Tsimshian First Nations, told the Optimist the recent discovery simply adds to the thousands of First Nations children across the country who died at residential schools.
“It’s time for Canada to wake up and recognize that these are children. They’re Indigenous children, but they’re also just children. It’s time for us to wake up and come together as a country and hold accountable those who hurt them,” she said.
Lenti’s 11-year-old son Adam said it’s about time more people are finally realizing the wrongs of the residential school system in Canada.
The Tsawwassen First Nation held a circle for members Monday afternoon at the First Nation’s community garden.
TFN Chief Ken Baird was not able to provide comment at this time as he is grieving with other First Nations peoples across the continent.
The Optimist also reached out to Musqueam Chief Wayne Sparrow for comment, but as of yet, has not received a response.
Meanwhile, flags across the nation including at Delta’s Municipal Hall, as well as the Delta School District’s offices and other places such as the Delta Chamber of Commerce, were lowered to half-mast on Monday.
Delta Mayor George Harvie, who also laid out a pair of shoes outside City Hall, issued a statement prior to council’s meeting Monday, saying that there are no words to express the profound sense of grief and injustice that Indigenous communities are feeling across the country.
“These children were taken away from their families, their culture, and their lands - never to return home again. This discovery is a painful reminder of the legacy of the residential school system in Canada, and the ongoing need for meaningful reconciliation with our Indigenous peoples,” said Harvie.
Harive added Delta is committed to meaningful reconciliation.
At Monday's council meeting, councillors endorsed a motion from Harvie to send a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau requesting that immediate action be taken to ensure all former residential school sites in Canada be examined, under the guidance of local First Nations, to find and return home thousands of children who, to this day, remain missing and unaccounted for.
As many others did across the province, local teachers wore orange in a show of support, while students at Delta schools also set up memorials for the young lives lost.
The school district on Monday also issued a letter to parents and students, stating that the news of the discovery of the children’s remains is utterly devastating, causing a wide range of difficult emotions.
The district is encouraging staff and students to wear orange this week.
“While the recent discovery of the remains of the children in Kamloops is horrific, sadly it will not come as a surprise to those who are familiar with the atrocities of the Residential School System. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada highlighted the experiences and stories from Residential School survivors and the colonial impacts on Indigenous peoples across their homeland. As a country, it is important to realize that we need to continue to seek and share the Truth of our shared Canadian history before any Reconciliation can be achieved,” the district stated.
“As a district, we remain committed to the Truth and Reconciliation journey, and will continue to work with local Indigenous peoples, colleagues and communities across the province to ensure students and educators understand the broader story of Residential Schools in Canada and our colonial past.”
The district also notes June is National Indigenous History Month, while June 21 is National Indigenous Peoples Day.
“Every week in June, our Indigenous Education department will be providing teaching resources and videos to all schools, including interviews with Indigenous role models to hear their stories. This is important learning for all of us,” said the school district.
Delta South MLA Ian Paton said the horrific discovery is absolutely devastating.
“I extend my heartfelt condolences to the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc people led by Chief Rosanne Casimir, as well as all Indigenous peoples who had their children taken from them and sent to residential schools across the country. As the flags at City Hall fly at half-mast, we are reminded of the need to continue working towards meaningful reconciliation with our Indigenous communities," Paton said.
The Optimist also reached out to Delta MP Carla Qualtrough for comment.
Qualtrough posted this message on Twitter Monday: “I was heartbroken to hear of the news of the remains of 215 children found at the Kamloops Indian Residential School,” said Qualtrough. “My thoughts are with the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation, with residential school survivors, and with the families of the children whose lives were taken.”