Remembering the 215 Children and Others

Congregations across Chinook Winds Region continue to take time to remember and acknowledge that our Church’s history has also caused harm, particularly our involvement in Residential Schools. 
           Communities of Faith took time to remember the 215 children found at the Kamloops Residential Schools and others who died. They did that through worship or ringing 215 bells, tying 215 ribbons to a tree or fence or placing children’s shoes on steps.

You’ll find below more photos and an article by Tilly Meyer, St. Andrew’s United, Lacombe, AB:

Also, an article by FRANK MCTIGHE, FORT MACLEOD GAZETTE EDITOR, Directly below

MiYeon Kim, Fort MacLeod
Rev. MiYeon Kim, Trinity United Church, Fort MacLeod, AB Photo: FRANK MCTIGHE

Trinity United Church in Fort Macleod has created a way for area residents to pay tribute to residential school survivors and the 215 children whose unmarked graves were discovered in Kamloops, B.C.
Rev. MiYeon Kim during the June 6 service invited people to take a moment for reflection, then tie one of the provided orange ribbons on the railing outside of the church.
“Anyone who lives in Fort Macleod, and anyone who is mourning this tragic news, are invited to come anytime and any day for silent reflection and to tie ribbons to honour the victims and survivors,” Rev. Kim explained.
The unmarked graves were discovered on the site of a former Indian residential school at Kamloops, B.C.
Rev. Kim said although the discovery took place in British Columbia, it has significance for all Canadians.
“This week we were confronted by our own history of the United Church of operating residential schools,” Rev. Kim said.
Rev. Kim encouraged people to consider their relationships with Indigenous people.
The discovery of the children’s graves has caused pain for Indigenous people who attended residential schools and whose parents and grandparents were students.
Rev. Kim said that while she was mourning the horrific news she discovered that some church members were not aware of the United Church’s history of involvement in the Indian residential school system.
Rev. Kim took time during the service to talk about the United Church’s history with Indigenous people.
“This story may disturb our hearts, but it’s time we should hear it again,” Rev. Kim said.
Between 1849 and 1969 the United Church ran 15 residential schools as part of the federal system that removed Indigenous children from their families.
The plan was to remove the children from their communities and traditional way of live in order to assimilate them into mainstream society.
One hundred and 50 thousand children were sent to the schools.
Rev. Kim said about 80,000 of those children, including 5,000 who attended United Church schools, are alive today.
“In addition to the tremendous damage done by the stated purpose of the schools, many students suffered physical and sexual abuse,” Rev. Kim said. “Many students recalled being beaten for speaking their native language.”
The residential school students lost touch with their parents and traditional ways.
“This story was largely hidden or ignored until 1990 when former students began to come forward with court cases,” Rev. Kim added.
One case brought by Willie Black Water “laid bare” the United Church of Canada’s role.
The United Church was the first of the church partners in the Canadian Indian Residential School System to acknowledge the wrong in being involved, and in 1986 issued a formal apology.
The church received a response that it would be expected to “walk a more faithful path,” Rev. Kim said.
The Indigenous elders of the church said the apology must not be a symbolic act, but rather words of action and sincerity.
In 1998 the United Church moderator apologized for the pain and suffering caused by the church’s involvement in the Indian residential school system.
The United Church eventually entered into the residential school settlement agreement.
In 2012 the United Church revised its crest to reflect the presence and spirituality of Indigenous people in the church.
A memorial is set up outside Trinity United Church, with orange ribbons provided for the public.

Shoes on the steps of St. Andrew’s United Church, Lacombe. More photos below.

By Tilly Meyer from the committee “Living into Right Relations”, St. Andrew’s United Church, Lacombe

Little shoes graced the steps at St. Andrew’s United Church, Lacombe for 215 hours beginning on May, 31st 2021. The shoes and stuffed toys were placed by the local Church members and the Lacombe community in remembrance and in tribute of the recent discovery of 215 children remains that were found at the Kamloops Residential School. We wanted to share our empathy with all Indigenous, First Nations, Inuit, and Metis people from across the country who have, and still do, suffer from mistreatments. The Residential School survivors have had their wounds reopened and we from St. Andrew’s United Church in Lacombe, in reconciliation, wanted to pay tribute and show we care.
Even though placing of symbolic shoes is but a small dot of recognition, it was met with appreciation. While I was standing at the Church steps, a First Nations and a Metis school survivor from Manitoba were present. They wept as they looked at the little shoes. Another community lady that I did not know came by just to say a prayer. As the days went by more and more shoes and stuffed teddy bears appeared; candles and other items that were placed reflected the grief of those coming to the steps.
The little shoe memorial stayed on the Church steps for 215 hours, ending with the Church Bells ringing 215 times on Wednesday, June 9th 7:00 pm. Commemorating the loss of these children and all those who suffered from the Residential School system, each ring represented a child; this begins a process of healing.
With prayer, in solitude, we will remember these children.