Warning: The following report contains descriptions of genocide and violence committed against Indigenous children and communities. If you require support, the National Indian Residential School Crisis Line can be reached 24 hours a day by calling 1-866-925-4419.
The Dene Nation is hosting a memorial walk and ceremony in Yellowknife this Friday to honour the children found in Kamloops.
The Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation discovered 215 children buried in a mass grave at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School last week. The news was met with grief, horror, and outrage across the country as communities mourn the children lost to the residential school system and its continued impacts on Indigenous peoples.
Dene National Chief Norman Yakeleya said on Wednesday: “We, the Dene, call on all levels of government and all Nations to support the families that have experienced Canada’s aggressive assimilation policies.
“We stand in solidarity and remembrance of the 215 children who perished at the Kamloops institute, and for all children that did not survive Indian Residential Schools or other Canadian institutions.”
Yakeleya called on churches in Canada to acknowledge the atrocities they committed and “participate in the pursuit of truth and justice that honour each child taken.”
Several of the calls to action put forward by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015 are specifically aimed at religious institutions, including demands for the Pope to publicly apologize and for all churches to educate their congregations on the role they played in colonization.
Yakeleya wants governments of all levels to begin examining other former school sites in the country.
In the Legislative Assembly on Monday, Premier Caroline Cochrane committed to supporting Indigenous communities in the territory who wish to pursue such work.
“The tide of the reconciliation is exposing the powerful, deep, hidden chapters of colonialism on a Nation of Peoples,” Yakeleya’s statement read.
“It’s time we ask our Creator for guidance and protection as we call upon a national inquiry to what we have been exposed to with the Residential Schools, Indian Hospitals, Sixties Scoop, Federal Day Schools, and in justice, such as correctional institutions. It’s time to gather the evidence-based distinction that fell in deaf ears as our Elders speak too.
“The families are still waiting for their children to come home. Enough is enough and the federal government and churches must come clean as we walk the path of reconciliation. It is time we say the children’s names and bring them home.”
Friday’s memorial walk and honouring ceremony will begin at noon near the former Akaitcho Hall site in Yellowknife. A gathering will be held beforehand at the Northern Arts and Cultural Centre at 11am.
This event joins one of many held throughout the NWT to honour the children.
As of Monday, the City of Yellowknife is flying all flags outside public facilities at half mast for 215 hours to honour the number of children found. The flags will rise again at 8am on June 9.
The Kátł’odeeche First Nation has also lowered its flags for the next 215 hours.
Residents have been leaving shoes at various sites in several communities, including at the Akaitcho Hall site and St Patrick’s Co-Cathedral in Yellowknife and St Joseph’s Cathedral Parish in Fort Smith.