'The trauma that we face every day is insurmountable': Lethbridge vigil honours residential school victims

Shoes left at a vigil to honour the 215 children whose remains were discovered at a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.

The discovery 215 children found buried at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C. is sending shockwaves throughout the nation. In Lethbridge, community members organized a vigil and asked people to line up child-sized shoes to represent the lives lost throughout years of trauma brought on by the residential school system.

"The trauma that we face every day is insurmountable. We have no safe spaces and everyone talks about reconciliation, but an apology is nothing without acknowledgement," said Marissa Smoke.

For many, the discovery of remains in Kamloops is bringing back painful memories.

"Hearing and reading about the 215 that were just discovered opened up a lot of hurt," said residential school survivor, Sheldon Day Chief.

"Highlighting this opens up the door for every other race to find out about what really happened here in Canada and to understand where First Nations are coming from."

The last standing residential school in Alberta, St. Marys (Blood) Residential School, was located near Cardston, about 778 kilometres south of Lethbridge.

It was open from 1898 and it closed its doors for good in 1988.

The generational impacts of nearly 100 years of abuse in residential schools has deep roots and, according to Day Chief, more people need to make themselves aware of the atrocities that transpired in Canada.

"Our people would use alcohol and drugs as an escape. It's hard for people to deal with their trauma when they don't know where to go or where to reach out," he said.

"I could have easily been on the streets myself if I didn't meet the people that I did on my healing journey."

More than 150,000 First Nations, Métis, and Inuit children were in the residential school system between the mid 1800s and 1990s.

In Alberta alone, at least 821 died while attending the 25 schools that operated throughout the province, but experts say that number is likely much higher.

"If we keep living in denial, we're not going to achieve any real state of reconciliation, so get over the denial," said one attendee at Monday's vigil in Lethbridge.

"When the bodies show up, how can we deny it? It's time to make change."

More than 100 people attended the Lethbridge vigil to pay their respects, many of whom dropped off shoes and flowers.