This is not history; this is happening now

Sault Today [Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada]

May 30, 2021

By Josie Fiegehen

A memorial has begun at Algoma University, formerly Shingwauk Residential School, to honour the lives of the 215 children found in an unmarked, mass-grave in Kamloops, British Columbia.

Local residents have been stopping by the steps of Shingwauk to honour the lives that were stolen and discarded by the residential school system, by dropping off a pair of children’s shoes.

Saturday night, I stopped by to offer tobacco as my contribution to the growing memorial.  At that point, there were about 45 pairs of children’s shoes, of all sizes, placed silently on the steps. As I was leaving, another car pulled in just after me, adding to the display. By this afternoon, the visual representation of solidarity had grown to over 215 pairs and various other offerings.

Jasmine Syrette, from Rankin, and her friend Celeste Maurer, from Beaverhouse First Nation, have been tracking and documenting the expansion of the memorial on the steps of Shingwauk. “Celeste had messaged me wanting to do something, and suggested the shoes, and she wanted me to use my voice to help her so I said, of course right away! I had a zoom meeting so she went right away with the first 4 pairs,” Syrette shares.

“It was a blow for the indigenous community because all of us heard their cries. I hope every site is searched and all our children can come home finally.”

Hundreds of shoes have been placed on the steps of Shingwauk Hall, May 30, 2021 (Dan Gray /
Hundreds of shoes have been placed on the steps of Shingwauk Hall, May 30, 2021 (Dan Gray /

Algoma University issued a statement this afternoon:

“We had always suspected that there was more to this story and they have shown that there is truth to what we have known.

For the past four decades, the Children of Shingwauk has been committed to healing the trauma of the residential school experience, exposing the truth and moving forward with the necessary healing required. We realize that we have more work to do and we are committed to this ongoing effort. 

Our hearts and prayers go out to the families of these children, their communities and to those who never came home.”

A comment below the statement, questions when action will be taken to uncover the truth of what lies beneath the grounds at Shingwauk. Asima Vezina, President of Algoma University offered a reply, stating, “we started this conversation this morning with the survivor community.” 

This is a time for mourning and remembering for our communities. And, for those whose lives have been fortunate enough to have not been affected by the systematic genocide on the Indigenous people of this land, it is your time to listen.

I ask you to remember back to April 6, 2018, when the Humboldt Broncos Hockey team was on their way to a junior league playoff game, when their bus tragically crashed with an on-coming transport truck.  A devastating accident, killing sixteen and injuring 13 young, bright men. The accident garnered significant media coverage and sent the entire country into mourning.  Celebrities were quick to show their support to the families, and a Go-Fund-Me page quickly raised over $15,000,000 for the families and victims of the crash.  The entire country went into mourning, honouring the lives of those affected for weeks.

Where is the same support for our residential school survivors? 215 children, some as young as three years of age; babies.  Taken from their families and brought to their death in the system.  This purposeful act by the government was to, “kill the Indian in the child,” even if that meant they literally had to die.  This is not historythis is happening now. These are our mothers and fathers, our aunties and uncles, our grandparents, who are reliving this trauma.

The last residential school remained open until 1996.  A mere 25 years have passed since the doors of the last residential schools have closed.

You should be outraged.  We should be searching the grounds of every former residential school so we can put our children to rest and bring them home.

On Monday May 31, 2021, wear orange to show solidarity with our indigenous peoples who are hurting right now.  Lift up indigenous voices, and listen to the survivors.

As we enter into the month of June, we celebrate Indigenous Peoples month.  This month also holds a very special meaning to the Anishinaabe people, as June is the month of the Ode`imin (strawberry).  Ode`imin literally translates to heart berry, and in Ode`imin teachings, this is the time where we are supposed to look in, reflect and heal our hearts.

Check in with your friends and family in these hard times.

The Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program has a National Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line (1-866-925-4419) that provides immediate emotional support for former Indian Residential School students. Available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.