Grief and sadness after discovery of mass grave in B.C. -- and a call for accountability and action

There was a collective sense of grief and sadness Monday around the Maritimes as people paid tribute to the young lives lost at a former residential school in British Columbia.

The tragic discovery of the mass grave containing the remains of 215 Indigenous children has stirred up painful memories for residential school survivors in our region.

Tiny shoes were placed on the steps of St. Mary's Basilica to honour the 215 lives cut short and draw attention to their unmarked burial site, which was discovered at a former Kamloops residential school.

"I feel for my family that went there now that have to be reawakened to the news of, what will they uncover here when they start looking?" said Thunderbird Swooping Down Woman, a Mi'kmaw elder.  

That question, is one survivors of the Shubenacadie residential school in Nova Scotia have been trying to answer.

Mi'kmaw elder Dorene Bernard is part of a team doing its own investigation at the site.

"There wasn't definitive evidence of graves," said Bernard, who is also a residential school survivor.

Ground penetrating radar has been used to explore part of the site, but there is more ground to cover and survivors want to be certain.

"They really are feeling very strongly that this is investigated very thoroughly and any children buried there are commemorated," Bernard said.

As flags flew at half-mast throughout the Maritimes,

Mi'kmaw communities are expressing their collective grief over something they already have known -- for years.

"But nobody listened to indigenous people," says Cheryl Maloney, the daughter of a residential school survivor.

Maloney's mother survived Shubenacadie, but rarely talked about it.

Maloney says what happened affected generations and still does.

"The wrongs of the residential schools are still being faced in this country by our people, that racism that systemic racism," said Maloney.

It's something Indigenous rights activists, have told governments repeatedly.

"The Royal Commission on Aboriginal People did a whole chapter on residential schools in the 1990s," said L'Nu lawyer Tuma Young.

Young also says the Truth and Reconciliation report, which was released six years ago, talks about missing children and unmarked graves.

Young says it's time for all Canadians, to do more than remember.

"Rituals and ceremonies and prayers and thoughts are helpful right now," Young said. "We need to do action now, that's really what's needed."

Action many say should include holding the federal government accountable for the past and in the present.

Archbishop Brian Dunn of the Archdiocese of Halifax-Yarmouth said the discovery in Kamloops is "absolutely heartbreaking."

"I am conscious that this tragedy has a significant impact on all Indigenous communities, especially those here in Nova Scotia," Dunn said in a statement.

"As Archbishop I want to offer my prayers for these children, their families, and their communities. Acknowledging and bringing to light this dark chapter of our Catholic and Canadian history is difficult but necessary in order to be the residential school experience, in which Church members participated knowingly or unknowingly."