‘To not let them be forgotten’: Vancouver memorial created after 215 children’s remains found in Kamloops

Dozens of people attended a candlelight vigil at the Vancouver Art Gallery Friday night to remember the hundreds of children whose remains were found buried at a former residential school.


VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — When Dehlia Nahanee looks at the 215 pairs of kids shoes displayed on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery in memory of children whose remains were found on the site of a residential school in Kamloops she trembles, thinking about the pain their mothers must have endured.

The remains were confirmed last weekend with the help of a ground-penetrating radar specialist, according to the Tk’emlups te Secwépemc First Nation. The display in Vancouver was set up Friday, and people have been pausing to express their grief, and to pause to honour the children’s memory.

Nahanee, an Indigenous mother herself, says seeing the shoes lined up on the steps reminds her of all the women she’s met whose children were taken from them.

“I’m still shaking inside, still shaking. I’m thinking about the mothers who didn’t want to want their children to go to residential school. I have talked to many mothers of children, mothers who fought for their children to stay at home, mothers who even ran away — thinking that they could save their child from residential school.”

It’s believed the deaths of the 215 children are undocumented. However, work is underway to determine if any records can be found. The Tk’emlups te Secwépemc First Nation says band officials are informing community members and those in surrounding areas who had children who attended the school about the discovery. To date, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada has identified the names or information of more than 4,100 children who died in the residential school system. However, the exact number remains unknown.

Like so many others, Nahanee has questions about what will happen now.

“Who are these children? Who are they? Can the children’s remains be properly buried with their mothers? Can they be brought home to their families?”


Haida artist Tamara Bell created the display, saying she wanted people to understand the scale of the tragedy.

“I read it last night, and I watched the news and I was so heartbroken. I was so emotional. I was mortified,” she explains.

“Then this morning I woke up and I realized I really, really wanted to do something I wanted to start healing. I had to do something. I wanted to create a visual so people could see what 215 children look like. This memorial here isn’t just for Indigenous people, it’s for people in Vanocuver to come and to honour these children, and not let them be erased from history, and to not let them be forgotten, but to stand in solidarity with us as Indigenous people in honouring these children.”

Bell also wants people to understand the ongoing impact of colonization and the residential school system, which the Truth and Reconciliation Commission determined constituted cultural genocide.

“We’ve got to wake up. We’ve got to get support from Canadians, you can’t just be polite and kind and ignore what’s happening today. There are kids killing themselves, there’s high incarceration rates there’s murdered and missing women, and the only way we can deal with this is collectively,” she says.

“There has been an erasing of our culture and our history and there has been ongoing genocide for over 500 years. Canada has not come to terms with it. It can’t wait any longer. We can’t continue to live in denial, and shake our head at other countries that are committing genocide, when it’s happening here on this land in this city, this very minute someplace in Canada.”

Nahanee is reflecting on the intergenerational trauma of the residential school system for Indigenous families.

“The moment my child is out of my sight, I shake inside, I do. I worry about them. Sometimes I felt like I was over-protective of my children,” she says.

“But when you think about it this is the legacy that we were given. This is the legacy that was handed down to us. We do not have the privilege of letting our children go. We’re always nervous, even to this day. Children are still being apprehended, still being taken from their mothers.”

In Canada, 52.2 per cent of children in foster care are Indigenous, despite the fact that only 7.7 per cent of children are First Nations, Inuit, and Metis.

The National Indian Residential School Crisis Line is available to provide support for former residential school students and others affected by the system. Emotional and crisis referral services are available through the 24-hour National Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419.

With files from CityNews and The Canadian Press

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