Lined along the sidewalk that goes from Sackville High School to the Sackville sports stadiums are hundreds of orange painted stones. They’ve been placed there by high school students as a tribute to the Indigenous students lost at residential schools.
“I think it’s important because people can see it, people are very driven by visual, and when they see it it can touch them in an important way,” said Gabrielle Close, a grade 12 student at Sackville High School.
The tribute was created after a survey of the grounds at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School uncovered the remains of 215 children buried in unmarked graves at the site.
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“To be honest I wasn’t surprised, I already knew what happened in residential schools,” said Mallory Hookey, an Inuit student at the school.
“It’s a big part of Canada’s history, and often times it’s ignored and that’s unfair to the Indigenous people who have struggled.”
Both Hookey and Close say they hope that their tribute will help bring more awareness and give people in the community a reason to stop and reflect on the country’s dark past.
“I find not a lot of people are educated on what happened at residential schools, that’s probably why it’s such a big deal,” said Hookey.
“I believe that education is very important, a lot of people don’t know actually about the residential schools and I believe it’s important to educate the community because it’s part of our history and I believe that learning about our history allows us to do a better job in the future,” said Close.
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Before beginning the project students at the school were given a presentation on residential schools and the lasting impacts they’ve had on survivors, their families and communities.
The presentation was given by Theresa Meuse who is the Mi’kmaq Indigenous student support worker at the school.
“I’m actually second generation of a residential school survivor so it’s always been a part of my heart and very close to me,” she said.
Meuse says the decision to use stones for their tribute comes with special significance.
“In our Mi’kmaq culture, the stones represent the grandfathers and grandmothers of our ancestors, so they come with so much information and history,” said Meuse.
“It’s our connector to them and to the spirit world.”
Over 215 stones were collected and painted, one to represent each of the young children recently discovered, and more to represent those who still haven’t been discovered.
“If one school has 215 children, how many does the other schools have?” said Hookey.
Each stone was hand painted by students who chose images, symbols or messages to reflect indigenous culture and what happened to those who attended residential schools. Some stones have been painted with things like turtles and Inuksuks, while others have messages written from ‘They found us’ to ‘we were made to cut our hair.’
“I really hope that community members just take some time to think about the history and acknowledge we are on stolen land and there is a brutal history that needs to be talked about,” said Hookey.
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