Event to commemorate remains of 215 First Nations children found buried in Canada

Recent discovery resonates across Indian Country

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — An event in Shiprock will be held in remembrance of the 215 First Nations children whose remains were discovered last week at the site of a former residential school in British Columbia.

Media outlets reported throughout the weekend about the mass grave found at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, where hundreds of First Nations children attended after being forcibly removed from their homes.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada was tasked with developing a historical record of the country's residential school system. In 2015, the commission determined that the schools were a system of cultural genocide, where physical and sexual abuse occurred, and many children never returned home.

A four-year-old girl places a pair of her own shoes in front of the St. Francis Xavier Church St. Francis Xavier Church in Kahnawake, Quebec on Saturday, May 29, 2021, as a memorial to the 215 children whose remains have been found buried at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops.

The discovery of the remains, some as young as 3 years old, resonated throughout Indian Country because generations of Native Americans were removed from their homes to attend boarding schools operated by the United States government in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Like Canada's residential schools, the boarding schools were designed to assimilate Native American youth by removing all connection to language and culture. They were also places where various forms of abuse took place.

"We felt compelled to do something about it," said Nanette Beyale, organizer of the event scheduled for June 4 at 6 p.m. in the lot across the Healing Circle Drop-In Center in Shiprock.

While the main purpose of the event is to honor and remember the 215 children and to support the First Nations through prayers, it will also offer space to talk about the boarding school experience and its ongoing impact on Native communities.

"It’s long overdue, but also people are starting to become strong enough to have these conversations," Beyale said.

Flowers, children's shoes and other items rest at a memorial at the Eternal flame on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, June 1, 2021, in recognition of discovery of children's remains at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia.

She learned about the remains found at Kamloops through social media.

"I was just speechless because that's an entire generation of, not only 215 children, but potential children they could have had and the potential children their children could have had," she said.

Her first thought was to mourn the victims, but she also talked with friends and family members about the news, which eventually led to planning the event.

"We realized that each of us has been impacted by boarding schools and assimilation of some sort. It's important to realize the amount of impact it can have on the communities, even if we are here on the Navajo Nation," Beyale said.

Like many of the events that have taken place to honor the children, the Shiprock event will use pairs of shoes to represent the victims.

Beyale explained that attendees may bring shoes and candles to the event.

Shoes may be donated for use by those in need afterward, she added.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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