Canada

Feds lower flags to honour 215 children after discovery of remains at former B.C. residential school

TORONTO —
The federal government is flying flags at half-mast to commemorate the deaths of 215 First Nations children whose remains were found buried near a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the announcement on Twitter on Sunday.

“To honour the 215 children whose lives were taken at the former Kamloops residential school and all Indigenous children who never made it home, the survivors, and their families, I have asked that the Peace Tower flag and flags on all federal buildings be flown at half-mast,” Trudeau tweeted. 

His announcement comes a day after the chief of Mississaugas of the Credit First Nations (MCFN) in Ontario issued an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, urging his government to lower the flags and declare a national day of mourning.

“Normally, I’m a person who likes to think things through and be very strategic, but there was so much emotional tied to this. I mean, everybody I talked to talked about the pain and hurt they were feeling. So, I said we need to act,” Chief R. Stacey Laforme told CTV News Channel.

In Laforme’s open letter posted on Twitter, he wrote, “We call on the Prime Minister to lower flags of this country and declare a national day of mourning for our children… For these Children and the many others!”

Since then, many others have joined the call, including NDP MP Charlie Angus, who tweeted that lowering the flags is “the least we can do.”

“These children were forcibly taken by the state. They died at a church run residential school and were buried without dignity,” he tweeted.

Several municipalities have heeded the call by Laforme, including the cities of Toronto, Mississauga, Brampton and Ottawa.

Toronto Mayor John Tory announced on Twitter that flags on city property would be lowered and the Toronto sign dimmed for 215 hours, or nine days, to represent each child.

“I have spoken with Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation Chief Stacey Laforme this weekend and he has asked for our ceremonial flags to be lowered to mourn this unspeakable tragedy,” said Tory.

“I extended my condolences to Chief Laforme and through him to all First Nations people in Toronto and across the country.”

The mourning has extended beyond just the lowering of flags.

Memorials have sprung up across the country, many using rows of tiny childrens’ shoes to visualize the magnitude of what has been lost, taking inspiration from a tribute of 215 shoes that was organized in Vancouver on Friday.

Photos posted to social media show shoes outside of Calgary City Hall and in front of the legislative buildings in Queen’s Park in Toronto.

A call has also gone up for Canadians to wear orange shirts on Monday to honour the children killed by the residential school system.

Many on social media have shared that they will be wearing an orange shirt tomorrow.

Numerous school systems across the country have posted that they will be inviting students to wear orange shirts tomorrow as well, from elementary schools in New Brunswick to high schools in Alberta.

The British Columbia Teacher’s Federation posted on Twitter that they would be working with local schools across B.C. to organize “orange shirt walk-ins”. They also called for school flags to be lowered to half-mast.

There have also been calls on social media for Canadians to leave teddy bears out on their porch to honour the children — a gesture echoing the way Canadians placed hockey sticks on their porches in the wake of the Humboldt Broncos bus crash.

The Anishinabek Nation tweeted an image of the Kamloops Residential School on Sunday afternoon, asking people to “place teddy bear(s) on your porch and leave your porch light on,” at 6 p.m. on Monday.

An online petition on Change.org has also been circulating, calling on the federal government to establish a national day of mourning in honour of the 215 First Nations children. As of Sunday afternoon, it has amassed more than 13,000 signatures.

Laforme acknowledges that these gestures alone won’t be enough to achieve reconciliation for what took place at the residential schools but says that they’re an important first step.

“Yes, there are a lot of things that need to be done. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done. But first and foremost, let’s show our love and our respect. And that’s what has to happen first,” he said.

The Kamloops school operated between 1890 and 1969. The federal government took over the operation from the Catholic church to operate as a day school until it closed in 1978.

At one point, the school was the largest in Canada’s residential school system.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission issued its final report on residential schools more than five years ago. The nearly 4,000-page account details the harsh mistreatment inflicted on Indigenous children at the institutions, where at least 3,200 children died amid abuse and neglect.

“This is a chance for the people in this country to understand that we’re not talking about just our children. We’re talking about the children of this country, the moment that I do not want this country to ever forget,” said Laforme.

With files from the Canadian Press.


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