Local tributes grow for children found in residential school mass grave in B.C.

As tributes grow around the capital, people like Jaqueline Shigwadia stand vigil over the memory of the 215 children buried in a mass grave at an Indian Residential School in B.C.

Shigwadia is 17 and is just finishing high school. When she read about the discovery of the grave, she could not stop crying. Her family and community have been touched by the residential school system, and it has left its marks.

“I’m here because I want to hold all those babies and I want to hug them to tell them they are lovedm and I wish they had got to live a better life,” Shigwadia said. “I grew up learning and listening to stories from community members about the trauma they have experienced in residential schools and day schools.”

Shigwadia has spent the past two days watching the collection of little shoes grow around the Centennial Flame on Parliament Hill. She hopes scenes like this will help Canadians understand what has happened to indigenous people and help heal the damage caused by past government policies and neglect.

In another visible tribute, the lantern at the National Gallery has been lit up orange and will stay that way for 215 hours, to pay tribute to each child found in the grave in B.C. CHEO has hung 215 orange ribbons in the Butterfly Garden, a special place at the hospital to reflect on those who have passed. And flags at the city and on all federal buildings are flying at half-mast to mark the passing of so many lives.

Lana Thomas visited the memorial on Parliament Hill to lay flowers with her family and reflect on what has been lost.

“For us as a family we are four generations of Miꞌkmaq women standing here today to pay some small gesture to those that have passed on, have never been found, have been lost and hopefully now for some can come home,” Thomas said. “My mother did not go to a residential school but she went to a day school and her family was impacted. Finally maybe this will be that testament that something more needs to be done and hopefully this will bring more change”

Shiqwadia and Thomas both agree there are more graves to be found and more children to be given the care and respect they deserve.

Shiqwadia has a simple request.

“I want to have a proper burial site for them to be properly put to rest in and to be remembered.”