Hundreds gathered June 3 at the Medicine Hat Tepee as the Miywasin Friendship Centre organized a memorial to pay tribute to and mourn the loss following the discovery of the remains of 215 children at Kamloops Indian residential school in Tk’emlups te Secwépemc First Nation.
Inside the massive 215x160 foot, 800-metric tonnes structure was 215 shoes laid in a circle, each a tribute to the 215 children found near the school.
With many in attendance wearing orange, (the colour worn on Sept. 30 for Orange Short which honours Indigenous children sent away to residential school) or wearing “Every Child Matters” stickers. There were guest speakers, members of the public were given an opportunity to speak about their direct experiences with residential schools or how it has impacted themselves and their families and the Buffalo Calf Singers, ceremonial drummers from the Nekaneet First Nation, which is based southwest of Maple Creek.
Elder Charlie Fox from the Blood Tribe and a residential school survivor spoke to the crowd as did Whitney Ogle, an indigenous and community engagement consultant from southern Saskatchewan and who also was the Indigenous Support Specialist at Medicine Hat College.
For Fox, it was especially painful to learn of the discovery of the children found in Kamloops
“I have a lot of friends in British Columbia forced to go to that school, they didn’t know anything that was going to happen to them,” Fox explained to a hushed crowd. “They were forced to live in that situation…You get through praying all day and then they turn around and hit us in the face for saying something in Blackfoot or native language was… we were overly disciplined with allot of severe punishment. A lot of the boys who shared my room, there was 165 of us. I don’t think there’s ten of us alive today. We all gave up before….their spirit was taken. They didn’t have anymore try. We thought the whole world was against us. I was an angry man when I left. I had no use for authority. If it wasn’t for me returning to our spiritual ways, I’d been a statistic a long time ago….feel a part of my own people, feel a part of people.”
“Today we honour our hoksi cala (baby), the bebela, our babies, through my Lakota teachings, I have been taught that every step I take, every breath I take is for the next generation,” explained Ogle. “This land is not ours but loaned to us… as I walk, I think of them, Our Hoksila were our everything and still today everything we do is for them. How can we better ourselves for our babela. So the residential school legacy took our children, our number one priority…I honour them today.
“There’s understanding of collective kinship, that I have been taught. I have been taught, and I feel that I love each and every one of you, the same that I would love my blood relatives… through that collective kinship, I honour you today for being here. There’s this understanding in our linear world that we find things. Or we discover things that we found those Hoksila. But my understanding through my Lakota ways is that we do not find things, they unveil themselves to us.
They present themselves to us, when the time is right. So, (the lost children) decided it was time to unveil themselves. I understand it as a message from our babela that it is time, that we come together.”
The hope and theme is truth and reconciliation and both speakers expressed mourning but also a hope for a more peaceful future.
“I also pray that we walk together and pray for all the people in Medicine Hat and work ever every day that give us a quality of life like the staff at Miyawsin, the police, social workers,” added Fox. “When we create an understanding amongst us, we will have an acceptance for each other and from acceptance will come kindness and show kindness for each other. We give thanks for our children, all our relatives. Those are people who mean so much to us. Miyawsin asked me to help in some way I just feel so humbled to be asked to help.”
“This is not about cultural teachings. This is not about the cultural awareness. This is about humanity. This is about the human nation,” added Ogle. “We have a shared history together. Each and every one of your ancestors are standing behind you right now. I’m not alone up here and neither are you. And that shared history is calling us today. It is calling us to come together in a good way, put our minds together for the future for the next generations and sustainment.”
Medicine Hat Police Chief Mike Worden said he was happy and proud to be asked to speak “and to be included in the planning as the community goes through issues like this.” He added that he was proud of the community for coming out to pay their respects and learn more of the situation.