The recent discovery of 215 unmarked graves of Indigenous children near a British Columbia residential school has gripped the attention of our nation, ripping open the still fresh wounds inflicted by the residential school system whereby thousands of Indigenous children were taken from their families, so many never to return.
There is no pain that can compare to that of a parent who has lost a child—full stop.
The decision by the newly-formed Manitoulin KAIROS committee to build a memorial installation consisting of 215 pairs of shoes in the hope of bringing home some semblance of the pain felt by those parents for those who view it.
Canada must brace itself for what is coming. Those 215 children’s graves are the very tip of the iceberg, as countless other residential schools count similar tragic fields of outrages committed against Indigenous peoples across this land. There will be further revelations, some smaller, perhaps some larger, but all horrific in their blatant indifference to the suffering inflicted on so many families.
These were children, defenseless, innocent, children whose only crime was to be seen as standing in the way of imperial aspirations as Canada spread its hegemony across the continent.
As Canadians, most of us tend to see ourselves as morally superior to the despots and tyrants who plague the world. The 215 children buried in those unmarked graves scream their truth, a truth which proves lie to that self-delusion.
Canada, as a society, has progressed greatly over the past 100 years, but until we come to grips with the reality of the systemic racism upon which our country was founded that perception will always ring false. The bell of our democracy has many unhealed cracks.
We must set aside the feelings of national pride that has enabled our nation to turn a blind eye and deaf ear to the past if we are to ever truly tackle the task of creating a just and civil society.
The Manitoulin KAIROS display will not complete that task or by itself bring about reconciliation, but perhaps it will help those who stop to view the display or to add their own shoes to consider what those 215 voices are trying to tell us. But it is one small start down that path.