'I have to live with the tragedy': Memorials remembering 215 Indigenous children found buried at residential school

Warning: Parts of this story may be disturbing to some readers.

Several memorials have been set up in Waterloo Region to remember the 215 Indigenous children found buried at a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.

Throughout the day Monday, children's shoes and stuffed animals were placed in remembrance at the Healing of the Seven Generations on Frederick Street. A vigil is set to take place there later in the evening, including a sacred fire, drumming and dancing.

"It's an emotional experience, I am not quite sure how to put it into words," said one woman at the memorial. "Being a mom, the thought of losing your child is a horrible thought."

Executive director of the organization, Donna Dubie, said the news is devastating and brings the tragedy of residential schools to light.

“I have had to live with the tragedy of the residential school for all my life," Dubie said. "It’s very disrespectful when we hear people saying 'can’t you just get over it?' Nothing has been done to help us through the grieving process.”

She continued: “Those individuals, who they now have evidence of, they could’ve been our grandparents and aunts and uncles."

Dubie's father was a survivor of the Mohawk Institute residential school in Brantford. She says he was taken there at just five years old and stayed until he was 14.

"The people who ran the residential school would take boys and just boys, nine, 10, 11, 12 years old maybe, and the girls that got pregnant by the staff that ran the residential school, they would take those babies and they were forced, they were threatened and they were pointed to take those babies down to the furnace at the residential school," Dubie said.

The horrific memory haunted her father for years, she said.

"I know it must have been very tragic for him, but see those are the stories that I've shared when it comes right down to it, there's no belief unless they actually see the evidence," Dubie said.

Dubie says more needs to be done to help the community in the aftermath of these tragedies, including funding to search other residential school sites for remains and to help with programming and resources.

"Government need to be held responsible for what's happened and in the accountability of it all, they need to help our communities move forward," she said. "We have 22 different programs here, it's hard for us to conduct any of those programs because the building is too small."

Meanwhile, dozens of shoes were placed on the steps of the Basilica of Our Lady in Guelph as a memorial to the children. A sign there reads "we believe survivors."

Another memorial was also established at the Wilmot Family Resource Centre in New Hamburg.

Flags around the region and across the country are flying at half-mast to honour the children.

Here is a list of resources and hotlines dedicated to supporting Indigenous people in crisis:

24/7 Supports

KUU-US Crisis Line

1-800-588-8717

Indian Residential School Survivors and Family

1-866-925-4419

National Crisis Hotlines

Kids Help Phone

1-800-668-6868

Crisis Services Canada

1-833-456-4566 or text 45645

First Nations and Inuit Hope for Wellness Help Line

1 855 242-3310

Local Resources

White Owl Native Ancestry

Provides mental health supports for youth

Phone: (519) 743-8635

Skills for Safer Living

The Skills for Safer Living program is a combination of a twenty-week skills-based group and a peer support group for individuals with recurring thoughts and behaviours about suicide.

Here 24/7

Addictions, mental health, and crisis hotline and support services

Telelphone: 1-844-437-3247 (HERE 247)

Information on Reconciliation

National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation

First Nations Child & Family Caring Society