WESTERN MANITOULIN—Church bells rang out on a sombre day last Wednesday as vigils were held in various communities on Western Manitoulin in remembrance of the recent discovery of 215 unmarked children’s graves on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. The United Church Pastoral Charge organized these events in Meldrum Bay, Silver Water and Elizabeth Bay.
“The recent discovery of the remains of 215 unnamed children on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in unmarked graves is, at the very least, disturbing and disheartening,” stated Reverend Janice Frame, one of four people taking part in the Silver Water United Church bell ringing ceremony along with Reverend Mercedes Hughes, Ron Vollick, Donna Coulter and a small group in attendance. “I felt the need to acknowledge the children, and to respond to their deaths with respect. Ringing our church bells seemed appropriate. Choosing a time that coincided with the vigil planned in Little Current meant that from the east end of Manitoulin to the West End, the children were honoured.”
“When you ring the bells for children, it’s very emotional,” said Ms. Coulter.
“I do not regard ringing the church bells on Wednesday as a token feel good gesture whose real purpose was to soothe feelings of guilt among our non-Indigenous population. Rather, I see it as one of what I believe will be many expressions of acknowledgement and regret as we on Manitoulin, and all across Canada, come to terms with our colonial past,” continued Rev. Frame. “It will be a long and difficult path, but I think only when we settler descendants commit to make the journey and take the first step can a new relationship with the First Peoples of these lands begin.”
At the Elizabeth Bay United Church, Erwin Thompson, Molly Ainslie and Joyce Morrell took turns ringing the bell 100 times, followed by a moment of silence for three minutes and 35 seconds, and then ringing the bell an additional 115 times.
“It’s important to remember the residential schools and the decimation of First Nation people’s culture and language,” said Mr. Thompson. “The United Church was the first church to apologize in 1986. Our moderator made an apology in Sudbury at that time. The Roman Catholic Church has not apologized. That is why it is so important for the Pope to issue an apology.”
“These children were taken from their parents,” said Mr. Thompson. “Just imagine if someone removed you from your family home. How would you or anybody feel? These children were taken from their homes, and lost their language and culture. They lost everything.”
In Meldrum Bay at the St. Andrews United Church, Jan Joyce rang the church bell once, then the approximately 15 people who gathered at the waterfront stood quietly in remembrance for 215 seconds. Then the church bell was rung once more.
“I think it is important that we recognize as humans the nightmare that was experienced by these kids,” said Ms. Joyce. “It is a small gesture but important that we recognize it.”