Memorial honouring 215 Indigenous children to stay on Saskatoon church steps

Ceremonies outside a Saskatoon church marked the end of the four day memorial, honouring the lives of 215 children found buried at the Kamloops Residential School.

The hundreds of shoes will continue to stay on the steps of St. Paul Co-Cathedral as a reminder of the mistreatment Indigenous children faced.

Paydahbin Aby started the memorial as a place for people to pay tribute and mourn the lives lost in residential schools.

“People needed a place to gather and grieve together,” Aby said.

She said the memorial also marks a place for conversation about residential schools and the “heinous” treatment of Indigenous people.

“They're not even schools, they were prisons for our children,” Aby told CTV News.

She’s calling for the government, Catholic churches and Pope Francis to acknowledge it as genocide.

Chenoa McArthur attended the Qu’Appelle Indian Residential School. It was the last one in Canada to close in 1998, though by that time it was First Nations-operated and known as White Calf Collegiate.

“A lot of people think it’s ancient history and to just get over it ... It’s not ancient history,” McArthur said.

The Saskatoon memorial has grown over the past days, with hundreds of children’s shoes and stuffed animals covering the church steps.

Bishop Mark Hagemoen of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon said he said he acknowledges and honours the tribute, in a statement issued Sunday.

“Our culture is strong, we're not going anywhere. This is in our DNA. We're the grandchildren of the ones they couldn't disappear,” McArthur said.

Parts of the memorial will move to a sacred fire set up by the South Saskatchewan River, set to burn for four days.

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.