BUFFALO LAKE - Buffalo Lake Métis Settlement held a memorial event last Thursday evening to honour the 215 Indigenous children linked to the remains recently found in unmarked graves on the grounds of a former residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia.
Last week, Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation Chief, Rosanne Casimir, announced that the remains of 215 children were found near the city of Kamloops.
Buffalo Lake a Métis Settlement displayed 215 pairs of children’s shoes by the outside dreamcatcher at the community gymnasium on Thursday night. Attendees sat in view of the dreamcatcher and the shoes, all lit by the late evening sun and a firepit.
The night's agenda included guest speakers, a song by Horace Patenaude, and a poem read by members of the settlement's COVID Care team. Lac La Biche County Mayor Omer Moghrabi and his wife Bev also attended the event.
The outdoors event also featured a tribute dance performed by Alicia Cardinal, a Buffalo Lake member who has been dancing since she was a child. Cardinal also said a few words after her dance to explain the importance of it, and why she wanted to showcase the dance. She said that even though the residential school system is no longer in existence, Indigenous families are still suffering from those abuses, continuing the legacy today.
“Many kids are being taken from Indigenous homes into non-Indigenous homes. We make up 54 per cent of the foster care system in Alberta,” said Cardinal.
Attendees at the event placed flowers on the 215 pairs of shoes, and underneath the shoes were paper hearts. The organizers explained that those attending could take the hearts and write messages on them for the children, and then put the papers into the fire to be carried to the spirits of those who died.
Love and respect
Brenda Blyan, the administrator at Buffalo Lake Métis Settlement, explained the planning and importance of the event in her speech.
“In the planning of this memorial, the ladies got together and started talking about what we could do as part of our love and respect and acknowledgement of what occurred… We light the fire so the deceased have a light to light their journey to where they’re going,” said Blyan, “We are doing this out of respect and honour.”
At the end of the tribute, children and parents were allowed to choose shoes from within the circle. The ceremony was emotional for many who attended. Blyan said a particular phrase that began in BC shortly after the grave sites were found is hoped to keep the issue at the forefront.
"In their final slumber ... they woke a nation." The phrase has been attributed recently to a social media page from British Columbia belonging to a Josie Marie, who identifies herself simply as a 'survivor.'
The same phrase has been attached to orange shirts and clothing meant to symbolize the residential school traumas.