Residential school survivors hold vigil in Winnipeg for 215 children found buried in B.C.

WARNING: This story contains details some readers may find distressing.

Residential school survivors tied hundreds of orange ribbons outside a downtown Winnipeg Catholic church on Saturday to honour the 215 children buried on the grounds at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in B.C.

Vivian Ketchum of Wauzhushk Onigum Nation in Kenora, Ont. said she woke up and saw the news about the horrifying discovery and instantly thought of her mother and relatives who attended residential schools.

“We all we’re all residential school survivors. We were all children. We all went under similar experiences, whether it be in B.C., Thunder Bay, Kenora, all the stories are the same. All the tears are the same,” Ketchum said.

Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation hired a specialist in ground-penetrating radar to carry out the work and believe the deaths of the children are undocumented. 

Geraldine Shingoose drummed and sang for the 215 children whose deaths were undocumented in Kamloops, B.C. (Viv Ketchum/Facebook)

Some of the children were as young as three years old when they died, the First Nation said.

Attempts are underway to identify and return home the childrens’ remains.

Ketchum says the death reopens old wounds that never fully healed. A survivor herself, Ketchum felt that some action needed to be taken to honour the lives of the children in Kamloops.

She hung an orange t-shirt, a symbol meant to raise awareness of the lasting impact of residential schools on Indigenous children, outside of St. Mary’s Cathedral, a Catholic church, but felt like more needed to be done.

Ketchum enlisted the help of her friend Geraldine Shingoose and the two of them lovingly tied ribbons in the area to help provide a visual reminder of the children whose lives were stolen.

“I was thinking, how many of those stories like mine? They were not heard. That’s two hundred and fifteen stories that were not heard. So that got to me,” Ketchum said. 

She said it was difficult to go through such a heart wrenching experience with COVID-19 precautions in mind.

“We had to maintain distances, we couldn’t come support each other, like hug each other, even that we couldn’t we couldn’t do that. That was a double double whammy right there,” Ketchum said.

“I wish we could be gathered and have ceremonies like sacred fires and that we can’t do that because of COVID, and that’s what really hurts.”

The City of Winnipeg and is also showing respect for the children who died.

“Out of respect to all those affected by this horrific news the Winnipeg sign has been dimmed. The flags at City Hall will also be half mast from sunrise to sunset for four days beginning Sunday,” Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman posted on social media.

Support available

Support is available for anyone affected by the lingering effects of residential schools, and those who are triggered by the latest reports. The 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.