WARNING: This story contains distressing details.
A men’s group ran 21.5 kilometers around Winnipeg Sunday in solidarity with what’s believed to be the remains of 215 children found at the site of the former Kamloops residential school.
Kory Murphy, 30, said he felt compelled to act when he learned of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation’s report of unmarked burial sites of children’s remains adjacent to a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C., located by ground-penetrating radar.
“My heart broke,” said Murphy, who is a non-Indigenous father. “I couldn’t imagine how the Aboriginal people feel when they heard that that their children were wiped out and we passed it over. It’s beyond disheartening.”
He reached out to his friend Johnnie Meikle, who helps run Strength in the Circle — a local initiative aimed at breaking the cycle of intergenerational trauma particularly for Indigenous men. They rallied a small team of runners together, friends since their time together in drug and alcohol treatment years before.
On Sunday morning, the group started jogging from the the Bell Tower on Selkirk Avenue and made their way around downtown and St. Boniface until they reached the Manitoba Legislative Building.
“I’m feeling a lot of unity, which is something I haven’t been able to feel in a long time because of the COVID,” said Murphy, while running on the route he mapped out.
As the group ran, they passed bottles of water out to people they met on the street and struck up conversations about why they were running and the effects of residential schools on Indigenous people. A woman with a grassroots organization even gave them orange shirts emblazoned with the words “every child matters.”
“Feeling a lot of connectedness to the streets and I’m feeling like we’re going to be able to get a conversation started, because it needs to happen,” Murphy added.
“We can’t brush by this … we can’t minimize it to our children, we need to start these hard conversations.”
‘Do it for all the people that are still struggling’
Jonny Meikle said his organization Strength in the Circle is a product of the ongoing residential school legacy and the wrongs committed by Canada toward Indigenous people, which lead to the environments they grow up in.
“I just want to see unity amongst our people and I want to see systems change,” he said.
“We have to change the way we’re approaching these systemic issues. We need to do it for all the people that are still struggling from the residual effects of the residential school legacy and other discriminatory policies imposed by the Canadian government,” he said.
After the run, the men left their shoes on the steps of the Manitoba Legislature Sunday afternoon.
“I hope the government can see this and take an action for the children that are still underneath the residential schools and that are still affected by the schools today, its chronic underfunding of the Indigenous communities and that needs to stop,” said Dan Moulden, who ran with the group.
Meikle said there are many grassroots agencies working to help, and all non-Indigenous people can do a lot too.
“Spread awareness talk to each other, boots on the ground, volunteer with Indigenous organizations, get to know your neighbour, understand the truths and pass that on,” he said.
“We’re going to see change in the future.”
Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools, and those who are triggered by the latest reports.
A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.