Mourners gathered Sunday outside a Catholic church in downtown Kamloops, leaving kids' shoes and stuffed animals outside Sacred Heart Cathedral to honour the hundreds of children buried in newly discovered unmarked graves on the other side of the Thompson River.
The memorial was not affiliated with the cathedral or the Catholic Church, but Kristen Hamilton, who organized the event with Cassie Tremblay, said it was intentionally held outside the prominent place of worship — providing space to pay respects and to start a dialogue.
The event ran from noon to 4 p.m. and Hamilton said about 30 or 40 people stopped by.
“It’s an opportunity to show solidarity and to show respect and also a call to action for us to start doing better,” Hamilton said.
On Thursday, Tk'emlups te Secwepemc announced the discovery of the remains of 215 children buried on the site of the Kamloops Indian Residential School. TteS Kukpi7 Rosanne Casimir and other band members have since said the finding confirmed long-held beliefs about children dying and being buried on the school grounds.
The school was in operation between 1890 and 1978, operated for most of that time by the Catholic Church.
“We specifically put the call out for people that are going to their places of worship today, and who might be feeling hugely conflicted,” said Hamilton, who added she comes from a Catholic background herself.
“We're not there to be to be angry or blame people, but really to draw people in. It was fantastic because just as the mass was ending, the outdoor mass, we were setting up and we had people coming by to talk to us.”
Hamilton said they collected donations of teddy bears and shoes which will be taken to the Kamloopa powwow grounds and incorporated into an art piece to be displayed in honour of the buried children.
“It was really just an atmosphere of peace and mourning and respect,” she said.
Hamilton said she wants to encourage people to pay their respects at the Tk’emlups te Secewpemc memorial located near the former residential school site, and to participate in sacred fire ceremonies.
She said by putting on the memorial, she also wanted to spark conversations that need to be had by “settler people, especially Christians and Catholics.”
“It’s not appropriate to necessarily be having those conversations at the sacred fire, but we want those conversations to start happening. So we’re trying to make a safe space to do that today,” Hamilton said.
Ultimately, Hamilton said she wants to see people listen to survivors and their families, and having “difficult conversations” about responsibility and accountability.
“We, as settler people and churchgoers, whoever, we need to start taking responsibility for what happened in residential schools and what is still happening with child apprehensions and over-incarceration,” she said.
“I’d love to see the church step up and finance the work happening at former residential school sites and finance survivor support. It’s a debt long overdue.”
A sacred fire and hand drumming ceremony is slated to take place at 7 p.m. Monday inside Moccasin Square Gardens, north of the former residential school.
A Tk’emlups te Secwepemc social media post said all are welcome, and COVID-19 protocols will be in place. Attendees are asked to wear masks.