Church bells chime 215 times for children found buried at Kamloops residential school

Bells at Anglican churches across Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands chimed 215 times Sunday, once for each child whose remains were recently found at the Kamloops Indian Residential School.

“We need to start somewhere and we need to signify and signal something,” said Reverend Ross Bliss, vicar of Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver. “(We need to) signal intent that, you know, we get that this is a horrible thing, this is an important thing and we are implicated. So we’re starting there.”

Locals stopped in their steps or sat to listen as the chimes played at noon Sunday, after services.

“Each toll was a child, some a very small child,” said Sheryl Shermak, who stopped to listen. “I was just holding that in thought and holding in thought all these stories from Aboriginal friends and what they’d shared with me.”

Bliss acknowledged calls for apologies from church leaders by saying: “we absolutely need to apologize and we have and we are in the process.”

He also addressed some of the horrific treatment of children.

“When you essentially torture a child, for example, for speaking their own language, you are participating in kind, in the same kind of thing that went on in the Salem witch trials, or when they burned Mennonites at the stake,” said Bliss.

He also suggested all Canadians add this to their thinking: How many children died at the school you attended?

“Do they number in the dozens or hundreds or thousands?” Bliss asked, rhetorically. “I don’t think so.”

INDIGENOUS COMMUNITIES STILL PROCESSING ‘HORRIFIC NEWS’

Many Indigenous communities are still trying to come to terms with the devastating discovery in Kamloops.

“The horrific news, it just set off a bunch of triggers, also within my community,” said Chief Ralph Leon of the Sts’ailes First Nation

Leon is a residential school survivor. He went to St. Mary’s Indian Residential School in Mission when he was 10 years old.

“Hearing about the children that were found, it almost – you could feel that hurt all over again,” said Leon. “I witnessed mental abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse.”

When speaking with CTV News, he told a horrifying story about his wife’s grandfather, who went to visit his brother at a the Kuper Island residential school on Vancouver Island.

“He asked where his brother was, and the driver just pointed to a box, a wooden box, and said they said, ‘Your brother’s in the box,’” said Leon. “He was dead in the box and they were sending them home.”

Leon said he wants to see all residential school sites searched for remains.

“A lot of communities are without an uncle, or an auntie or a grandma, you know, a child that was never returned home,” said Leon. “It’s not just a Kamloops situation, it’s a national situation, I believe.”

INTEREST IS GOOD, ACTION IS BETTER

Patricia Massy, owner of Massy Books in Vancouver, told CTV News her business has seen a spike in interest for Indigenous books.

“Every year around this time it’s quite busy for us,” she said. “Particularly the last few days, since the news of the Kamloops residential school, the findings of the children, we’ve been seeing an uptick of books related to residential school.”

The Massy Books storefront houses the largest collection of Indigenous books in the Lower Mainland.

“We specialize in shelving underrepresented voices,” said Massy. “When I look at our Indigenous section, which is 50 shelves of content, every single year it grows and it grows and it grows, and there’s just so much beauty being produced and created.”

Massy is a member of the Kelly Lake Cree Nation and said her mother was a day student at residential school.

“She suffered abuse at day school because she spoke her language,” said Massy. “My grandmother too. She didn’t go to residential school, but she was abused by Father Youngblood up in Tumbler Ridge in the Kelly Lake area.”

Massy explained that intergenerational trauma is extremely painful, and still exists for a lot of people. The way through it, she said, is understanding and action.

“My sister works at a prison and there’s only one day of Indigenous training for all of the corrections officers,” Massy said. “Considering that Indigenous people make up 30 per cent of the prison population and are only five per cent of the population, (it) seems like there should be a lot more education in terms of working with Indigenous people, their history, their ceremonies and their culture.”

She’s glad to see the general public wanting to educate themselves by reading the stories and memoirs that exist, but said for actual change, people need to take action.

“They need to hold the government accountable, they need to hold the church accountable,” she said. “People need to also look at the 94 calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation (Commission) and hold their government and municipality to be accountable and ensure that they’re enacting those 94 acts.”

Massy has an Indigenous reading list on her website, and also highlighted a few books while speaking with CTV News. She added that her store has a lot of children’s books that touch on the topic of residential school and Indigenous culture.

A selection of Massy’s book recommendations follows.

1. Braiding Sweet Grass, by Robin Wall Klimmerer

“It’s a beautiful celebration of plants and healing,” said Massy, adding that it’s quite a popular read.

2. Suffer the Little Children, by Tamara Starblanket

Massy said this is an essential read right now. “(Tamara Starblanket) wrote her thesis on genocide and it’s basically her argument that Canada is guilty of genocide for forced assimilation of children, abuse and murder, and also the current child welfare system.”

3. Medicines to Help Us, by Christi Belcourt

Massy described it as a beautiful book on traditional Metis plant use “infused with beautiful illustrations and artwork.”

4. Calling my Sprit Back, by Elaine Alec

Massy said this book talks about the author’s “healing journey,” adding it’s a popular selection at her store. 

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If you are a former residential school student in distress, or have been affected by the residential school system and need help, you can contact the 24-hour Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419

Additional mental-health support and resources for Indigenous people are available here.