Yukon comes together in honour of discovery at Kamloops residential school site

On Monday, people in Whitehorse marched to place 400 pairs of shoes in honour of the students at the Kamloops residential school. Photo: APTN.

More than 400 pairs of shoes and toys were placed around the steps at the Sacred Heart Cathedral in Whitehorse on Monday.

The shoes’ presence was emotional for many who gathered at the church as they represent the news that the graves of 215 children’s remains have been discovered at the former Kamloops residential school.

Later that day thousands of people led by drummers escorted the shoes as they were moved from the church to a sacred fire at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre, a sea of orange in their wake.

Except for the beating of drums it was a silent march for the children whose voices have forever been silenced.

Chief Lynda Dickson of Carcross/Tagish First Nation (C/TFN) says her community is reeling from the discovery.

“The incident that happened in Kamloops is devastating, devastating to all First Nations people across Canada, devastating to the people of Carcross and Yukon,” she says.

Yukon comes together

Dickson says the discovery also hits close to home.

That’s because the community was home to the Chooutla Indian Residential School which operated from 1911 to 1969.

Though the school doesn’t exist anymore, Dickson says its former site is still a source of pain for many.

“It’s opened up a lot of wounds for the Carcross/Tagish citizens and people of the Yukon,” she says.

Dickson says that’s why C/TFN has joined many other First Nations in calling into a full investigation into other residential school sites.

Velma Olsen, a First Nation of Na-Cho Nyak Dun beader in Mayo, says she was devastated she when she heard about the discovery.

“The first thing that came to mind was myself being a mother of how horrific it must have been, for one, to have your babies taken from you, and second, that they didn’t survive,” she says.

That’s why she started a Facebook group, For the Children Lost asking people to send her moccasin tops which she plans to create a display.

Olsen isn’t sure yet what her final plans are for the display, though she hopes to give it to Tk’emlúps te Secwe̓pemc in memory of the children.

“(I did it) just to have a more permanent memorial and a place where people can feel like they’re doing something for this,” she says.

Olsen says in just a few days the group has had 2,500 shares on Facebook and 1,500 people have committed to making the tops – some as far as the U.S.

“I t made me feel very humbled to have so many people want to take part in this project,” she says.

“It’s humbling to know there’s so many people out there that need an outlet for grieving and to show how much they’re hurting.”

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