'I can't imagine my child dying at school': 215 pairs of children's shoes set up as tribute after residential school discovery
VANCOUVER -- Hundreds of pairs of shoes were lined up along the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery Friday as a tribute to the hundreds of children whose remains were recently found on the grounds of a former residential school.
An artist told CTV News she put out a call to her network after hearing the news announced Thursday.
"I was so triggered and heartbroken and completely taken aback, because I know of this in so many instances," Tamara Bell said in an interview.
She said she'd grown up hearing stories of children dying at residential schools, and that it brought back memories of her mother, who had attended a residential school.
"I got in real time to see the legacy of residential school up close and personal with my mom," Bell said.
The news, which she saw on social media, made her feel like she had to act.
"I didn't want it to be just another Facebook post. I wanted to do something as an artist, and I wanted to do something that visualized 215 children," Bell said outside the downtown gallery.
She settled on shoes, to give the public an understanding of the scope of the discovery. Bell said she woke up early, cried, composed herself, and came up with a plan.
She and a group of people she'd reached out to bought 215 pairs of children's shoes – one for each of the children whose remains were found buried beneath the former school in Kamloops.
"I'm a mom, and I can't imagine my child dying at school. I can't imagine a child that I love never coming home, and not getting an answer," Bell said through tears.
"You don't have to be Native, you don't have to be anything to understand … today, buying the shoes, I was holding them in my hands and I thought, 'Oh my God. These are so little.' It really hurt me."
While she hopes the installation honours the children and helps people understand the impact of residential schools, she said she also hopes it helps people heal and move forward.
The remains were found last weekend using a ground-penetrating radar at the site of the Kamloops Indian Residential School, which was once the largest in Canada's system.
The school opened in 1890, changed hands in 1969 from the Catholic Church to the federal government, then closed in 1978.
The Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation is now working with the Royal British Columbia Museum to see if any records of the deaths can be found.
The band's chief, Rosanne Casimir, told CTV Friday that, to her community's knowledge, the children's deaths are undocumented.
The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said Friday was a day to honour the lives of those children, and hope for peace for their families.
"This is the reality of the genocide that was, and is, inflicted upon us as Indigenous peoples by the colonial state," UBCIC Grand Chief Stewart Phillip said.
In a written statement, B.C. Premier John Horgan said he was "horrified and heartbroken" to learn of the unmarked burial site.
He said the investigation by the First Nation will uncover the "full truth" of what happened at the school in B.C.'s Interior during what he described as a "dark chapter of Canadian history."
With files from CTV News Vancouver's Regan Hasegawa and Shelley Moore, and from The Canadian Press