WARNING: This story contains details some readers may find distressing.
A long row of orange wooden crosses now lines two of Brandon’s busiest streets.
The display follows preliminary findings, released last week, from a survey of the grounds at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia.
Those findings indicated the remains of 215 children could be buried at the site.
Jordan Wilson said when she heard that news, she wanted to do something. So she set to work building the crosses — 215 of them.
“I felt it was important to honour them,” she said.
“I want to show Brandon, and I want to show everyone, this is what happened. This is how many people were lost…. Now that I have kids, if that were to happen today, I can’t imagine my kids being taken.”
She and about a dozen other volunteers hammered the crosses into the ground Sunday morning along 18th Street and Victoria Avenue in the Manitoba city, about 200 kilometres west of Winnipeg.
For Wilson, the discovery in Kamloops hit close to home. Her grandmother was forced to attend the Brandon Residential School, and both her parents had to go to day school.
Natalie and Marcien Spence were among the volunteers who set up crosses.
Natalie set up three to honour her grandparents who attended the Birtle Indian Residential School.
“This gives a visual representation of 215 children that were found. Plus being so close to home, having all my grandparents in residential schools, it was very important for me to come out and support it,” she said.
Marcien wants the history of residential schools to be taught in all schools.
“Acknowledging would be the first thing, just recognizing that these things did happen,” he said.
The couple agree that there are long-lasting, intergenerational effects of residential schools.
“I’ve had my mother deal with what her parents went through and I had to deal with my parents and now I have a son and it stops there. The cycle of abuse and everything stops with me. My son won’t ever be hurt like how they were hurt,” Natalie said.
Wilson said she wants the federal government to take responsibility for its involvement in the residential school system.
She also hopes the discovery in Kamloops will prompt similar searches at other former schools across the country — searches that she expects will turn up further potential burial sites.
“I wouldn’t want anyone’s child to be forgotten,” Wilson said.
“What happened to them was unbelievably horrible and evil and so sinister in so many ways. I never want to see that again in history and I hope we can all be better humans.”
Wilson said she plans to leave the crosses up for four days. She hopes to later have them permanently installed at the site of the former Brandon Residential School.
Support is available for anyone affected by the lingering effects of residential schools, and those who are triggered by the latest reports. The Indian Residential School Survivors Society (IRSSS) can be contacted toll-free at 1-800-721-0066.
A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. Access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.