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Victoria vigil honours Indigenous children buried at Kamloops residential school

Memorial created at Mungo Martin House in Thunderbird Park to help grieve loss of children
Lou-Ann Neel, member of Kwakwaka’wakw tribe of the Pacific Northwest Coast, gives a heartfelt speech at an afternoon vigil at the Mungo Martin House in Victoria’s Thunderbird Park to honour the lives of 215 children whose remains were found recently outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. (Megan Atkins-Baker/News Staff)

Mourning continues in Canada after the remains of 215 children were discovered in a mass, unmarked grave at the Kamloops Indian Residential School.

The City of Victoria planned to lower the Xe xe Smun eem-Victoria Orange Shirt Day flag and Canadian flag to half-mast at 6 p.m. Monday (May 31) to honour the 215 children who died at the Kamloops Indian Residential School.

An afternoon vigil and prayer ceremony was held on Monday at Mungo Martin House in Thunderbird Park, next to the Royal BC Museum, to bring gifts, share stories and grieve the lives of those lost.

RELATED STORY: Remains of 215 children found at former B.C. residential school an ‘unthinkable loss’

The flags will remain lowered through June 8 for a total of 215 hours, one hour for each of the children who died.

“When I first heard all of this, it felt like I had been kicked in the gut with steel toe shoes,” said Lou-Ann Neel, a member of the Kwakwaka’wakw Peoples and organizer of museum vigil. “I was part of the generation that were the last to attend residential schools, so I know firsthand what happened there, and what happened in a lot of schools.”

Neel urged people to take responsibility for their own learning to be able to collectively reconcile in light of the findings. She remains hopeful that Canadians will move forward with a willingness to learn, emphasizing that there is a lot of valuable information online and that it is not an Indigenous person’s job to conduct such ongoing education.

RELATED STORY: B.C. premier ‘horrified’ at discovery of remains at Kamloops residential school site

“Please don’t tell me to come and talk about my resilience, come and talk to me about human rights. All Canadians have a responsibility and a duty to understand what our human rights are and to make sure everyone alongside is enjoying those rights. We all know that’s not how it’s been,” she said.

Neel adamantly called on all political leaders to take action, change legislation and ensure Indigenous voices are heard loudly, in politics and beyond.

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A young man leaves a teddy bear in memory of 215 children whose remains were found at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, during a vigil at the Mungo Martin House in Victoria’s Thunderbird Park. (Megan Atkins-Baker/News Staff)
An onlooker stands at the foot of the B.C. legislature steps, where numerous shoes and stuffed animals and candles pay homage to 215 Indigenous children whose remains were found buried on the grounds of a former residential school in Kamloops last week. (Don Descoteau/News Staff)