Pair of shoes for each of the 215 children discovered buried at former Kamloops residential school | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Pair of shoes for each of the 215 children discovered buried at former Kamloops residential school

Stephanie Gutierrez, left, and Vincent Tony placed 215 child-sized shoes tied with an orange ribbon to solar-powered garden lights at the former Kamloops Residential School, Monday, May 31, 2021.
May 31, 2021 - 5:30 PM

The days since the announcement of the discovery of the remains of 215 children buried at the former Kamloops residential school have been hard for Stephanie Gutierrez.

Her grandmother, Tillie Gutierrez survived the Kamloops Indian Residential School, but couldn't bring herself to share her experiences with Stephanie.

Gutierrez was inspired to do something when she saw photos of a shoe memorial on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery on the weekend and knew she needed to do something similar at the former Kamloops residential school.

On Monday morning, May 31, next to 215 solar-powered garden lights, she tied each pair of shoes together with a piece of orange ribbon. Each pair represents a child who was recently found to be buried near the school.

An announcement of the 215 bodies found buried near the school came from Tk’emlúps te Secwepemc on Thursday, after ground-penetrating radar work found the burial site. Since then, government officials and church leaders have made announcements to offer their condolences. The findings quickly resonated across the country with Prime Minister Trudeau calling on flags to be lowered to half-mast to honour the dead and missing.

"My grandmother survived this school, but all of these children represent what could have been another grandmother or grandfather," Gutierrez said. "I had my cries before I came today. It's been a hard couple of days and it's going to show people where they're at. I hope they heal."

READ MORE: Kamloops woman recalls how family was fractured by residential school system

Vincent Tony helped place each pair, pulling children's shoes, sandals and rubber boots out of a plastic tote and carefully placing them.

Tony's parents attended the school and others in the area, like Williams Lake.

To Gutierrez and Tony, the ceremonies, memorials and wake are important for both the children who have been found and the ones who remain missing. The findings are a triggering reminder of the past, but also bring a sense of validation to Indigenous peoples alive and passed.

It makes them question whether the building should even remain standing.

"I think it's a black eye to the church," Tony said.

He appreciates that while the building stands, it's a reminder for everyone of the damage done at the hands of federal policy.

READ MORE: B.C. teacher says students could be triggered by residential school discovery

A man faces away from the former Kamloops Residential School, towards the South Thompson River.
A man faces away from the former Kamloops Residential School, towards the South Thompson River.

But Gutierrez is conflicted. She says she can feel the heaviness and the memories held in the former school, but sympathizes for the Elders that it had traumatized.

Both Tony and Gutierrez will attend a drumming ceremony tonight behind the school, where Tony will be singing. He says it's part of the work he does to heal and to help others.

There is a quiet and heavy air at the former school, as visitors and community members filter through the site to pay their respects to the children who died and to the survivors.

The building overlooks the South Thompson River and the powwow arbor to the south.

The third and last night of Sacred Fire and hand drumming will take place at 7 p.m. today behind the school, continuing a weekend-long act of remembrance for those impacted by the horrific legacy of Canada's residential schools. With COVID-19 protocols in place and masks, all are welcome to attend the event.

Visitors have come and go over the weekend to pay respects and lay flowers for the children who died at the former Kamloops residential school.
Visitors have come and go over the weekend to pay respects and lay flowers for the children who died at the former Kamloops residential school.

If you find yourself in need of support please contact one of these organizations:

Indian Residential School Survivors: 1-800-721-0066

KUU-US Indigenous crisis line - available 24 hours
Youth Line: 250-723-2040
Adult Line: 250-723-4050

Residential School Crisis line - available 24 hours: 1-866-925-4419


To contact a reporter for this story, email Levi Landry or call 250-819-3723 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

We welcome your comments and opinions on our stories but play nice. We won't censor or delete comments unless they contain off-topic statements or links, unnecessary vulgarity, false facts, spam or obviously fake profiles. If you have any concerns about what you see in comments, email the editor in the link above. 

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