Editor’s note: The story below may trigger difficult or traumatic thoughts and memories. The Indian Residential School Survivors Society’s 24-hour crisis line is available at 1-866-925-4419.
The City of Vancouver has brought a two-year memorial for residential schools at Robson Square to a close.
Following a private burning ceremony on Sunday (May 21), the city says it has respectfully brought the temporary memorial to a close by following teachings by Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations “in hopes to nourish those children, help them find peace and support them to continue their journey to join their ancestors.”
Staff and volunteers removed the remaining items and structures earlier in the week.
A release from the city Friday (May 26) notes that in the teachings, which are handed down through generations, “memorials are temporary in nature to allow the spirits of those commemorated to move along on their journeys.”
Following a brushing ceremony, the city now plans to “reactivate” the plaza for public use, including supporting Indigenous weekend markets throughout the summer at Robson Square.
The memorial in Vancouver first began two years ago, after the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation confirmed there were remains of at least 215 Indigenous children at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops.
At Robson Square, the memorial began with 215 pairs of children’s shoes lining the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery which were placed by First Nations advocates from the Downtown Eastside.
The city notified the artists in November 2022 that the growing memorial of shoes and stuffed animals needed to come down ahead of the two-year anniversary of the announcement of the Kamloops discovery this month.
The statement said the decision was supported by the local Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh nations.
It says the memorial was initially installed in response to the profound need for grieving and healing spaces, but the continuation of the memorial wasn’t aligned with the spiritual practices of the three area First Nations.
The city said it should have acted sooner to bring the memorial to a close once it realized the local nations were not consulted and had not given permission for the installation.
The city says its continuing to work with the nations ad Urban Indigenous communities to create a spaces that recognize, honour and heal those affected by the residential schools, adding it will ensure both the temporary memorial artist and the volunteers are invited to participate in future conversations which are anticipated to be led by the local nations.
– With files from The Canadian Press