Over the past few days, Canadians from coast to coast have been honouring the 215 children recently discovered buried on the grounds of a former Kamloops residential school.
In Okotoks, a vigil has been set up at the municipal centre with candles and children's shoes, with residents welcome to visit to pay their respects.
The vigil was organized by Lisa Schmidt and Lyndsey Tran, two Okotoks residents and Members of the Metis Nation of Alberta Region 3.
Schmidt says she wanted a way for the community to come together in mourning and healing in wake of the discovery, and soon came into contact with Tran over social media.
The shoes and candles were donated by members of the community and placed in the courtyard in front of the municipal building.
One pair, in particular, held significant meaning, says Schmidt.
"A member of the indigenous community here came and dropped off a pair of baby moccasins. He expressed that he's of the first generation of his family to not be in a residential school. So he wrote his family name on the moccasins and gave them to me and shared some tears together and then he came down and set up a little station of cultural items and put them as an offering by the moccasins."
Schmidt, Tran, and a few other community members gathered at 2:15 on Sunday, May 30th, to carry out a smudging ceremony and land acknowledgement.
They also came into contact with councillor Tanya Thorn while preparing for the vigil, who was able to arrange for the town's flag to be lowered to half-mast in time for 2:15.
Schmidt says the gesture meant a lot.
"It was really important to us that the town be involved in the acknowledgment of what happened and the healing of our community, and bringing our community together in the right way. I was really grateful when we got there that a town employee showed up to lower the flag to half-mast, that was something that we requested to Tanya that the town consider doing. She took that right on and made it happen.... to me, it really showed the commitment of the town to reconciliation and honouring our true history."
In setting up the vigil, the organizers were approached by numerous members of the community who share their grief and personal stories.
One man approached Schmidt to tell her how the discovery brought generations of suffering into context for him.
"This news story that came about was the thing that finally helped him connect and understand the suffering that indigenous people went through in Canada. It was like something clicked for him and it really changed the way he sees indigenous people now."
The collective grief and recognition towards these 215 of countless First Nations people are, to Schmidt, a sign of healing.
"I'm seeing a massive change in attitude and behaviour. To me, that means healing is happening in our nation and drawing together communities and people. I'm just so grateful for that."
The town informed Tran and Schmidt that the vigil can remain in place as long as it's needed, so those wanting to pay tribute can do so.
Despite the unity she's been seeing across the country brought about by the discovery, Schmidt says these 215 children are examples of countless tragedies perpetrated against Canada's first people.
"I've been learning from the teachings of Elder Kerrie Moore, she's an Elder in the Metis community. One thing that I learned from her is that if we're using healing medicine such as sage, we're to never pluck them from the root. To just take what we need. It's the same with children. We're to never pluck them from the roots. That's what happened here."
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