Kahnawake grieves after more unmarked residential school victim graves discovered
MONTREAL -- For nearly a month, hundreds of pairs of children's shoes have lined the sidewalk outside the Francis Xavier Catholic Church in the Mohawk community of Kahnawake. Those shoes have taken on even greater meaning after the discovery of yet more unmarked graves of residential school victims, this time in Saskatchewan.
“It's been a strong statement for community members,” said Jessica Oesterreich.
The shoes were initially laid after the remains of 215 children were found in unmarked graves outside the Kamloops Residential School in British Columbia. Oesterreich, who organized the tribute, said the discovery of 751 more such graves, this time outside the former Marieval Residential School, has only deepened the community's resolve.
“This has given people opportunity to really grieve, for a lot of younger people in the community that didn't go to residential school but know stories from grandparents and aunts and uncles of what happened when they were there,” she said.
According to the provincial government, Quebec operated six residential schools. The province has recently announced steps towards more transparency on the schools' histories and has said it is committed to helping search the grounds for unmarked graves if survivors and families are in favour.
“Our plan is to consult the different communities and nations, to know what their intentions and will are,” said a government spokesperson. “Some communities already said they're ready for searches. Others want and need more time. We will respect that.”
The discovery of a second grave site is “tangible evidence” of what Indigenous people have long known, said Carleton University Indigenous Studies professor Kahente Horn-Miller.
“I think what this does is elevate the issue into the minds of the Canadian population and, hopefully, into the eyes and hearts and minds of the Canadian government to do something,” she said.
For Oesterreich, reconciliation can only come after the grief has passed.
“I firmly believe that people can't heal and move forward unless they have been given the opportunity to grieve to the extent they need to grieve.”