Honouring the memory of lost children

Posted: 2021/06/29


Na̱mg̱is Traditional Big House 300x225

The ‘Na̱mg̱is Traditional Big House in Alert Bay, B.C.

For many Canadians, the heartbreaking news of the discovery of the remains of 215 children buried on the grounds of the former residential school in Kamloops, B.C., as well as the further discovery of 751 unmarked graves on the site of the former Marieval Indian residential school in southern Saskatchewan, has been a reminder of the injustices that are a part of our recent history, the trauma of which are still being lived by so many survivors and their families. As our nation grapples with this news, many Bahá’ís and friends of the Faith also undertook efforts to mourn this devastating loss of life and to further the processes of healing and reconciliation.

In a letter dated 31 May 2021, in response to first discovery in Kamloops, the National Spiritual Assembly of Canada called for special prayers to be offered over the next weeks, in private prayer and in devotional gatherings or vigils, to honour those young souls, their families and communities. In that same letter, the National Assembly provided these words of guidance:

Let us draw on these powerful spiritual forces, joining with others of many different backgrounds and beliefs to educate ourselves and commit, in action, to a future that becomes day by day more illumined, freed of the darkness of this age.

In British Columbia, where the discovery in Kamloops has hit close to home, the Bahá’í and Indigenous communities have a long history of working together to form deep bonds of friendship; non-Indigenous Bahá’ís are invited to serve at potlatch feasts and have been ceremonially adopted into First Nations families, and of course, many Indigenous friends have also embraced the Bahá’í Faith.

“When this news came out, as a group of friends we asked ourselves ‘What can we do?’”, shared Cyrus Greenall, from Vancouver, B.C.  In consultation with Shelley Joseph, from the Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakw Nation, about an appropriate response, it was decided to organize and hold an online prayer gathering. It is estimated that approximately 150 people from across British Columbia, Alaska, and the Yukon attended this gathering, held on May 30th.

“Shelley and I opened the gathering by saying that we are here to honour these children who have passed and to remember them,” said Mr. Greenall. “And to also make sure that we can find purpose in this tragedy through reflecting at this time about how to take personal and collective responsibility.”

In addition to prayers being shared from many different faiths and Nations, the gathering also provided an opportunity for some Indigenous friends, including some who attended residential schools, to share personal reflections. “It was a very moving, very sacred space”, said Mr. Greenall. “There were a lot of tears and emotion, but also a lot of love and hope.”

As a result of the meaningful discussions that his gathering inspired, and out of a desire to devote more time to conversation, a follow-up event was held on June 4th to discuss the theme “What can we do moving forward?”. This gathering, organized by both Bahá’ís and friends of the Faith, explored how to upraise First Nations communities. Participants were invited to think about their role in the community, be it as teachers, parents, junior youth animators, or friends, and to reflect on how they could use that position to educate others about the issues facing their communities through meaningful conversations.

“I have been teaching about this in schools as part of the curriculum,” said Halena Jauca, a schoolteacher from Vancouver, B.C. “Now our neighbourhood has planned a gathering to learn more about our shared history. This is an important step in moving forward together and creating a better society for all.”

In addition to these gatherings, the Vancouver community also held a prayer vigil on May 30th, from sunrise to sunset, to honour and remember the 215 children and their families. People were invited to sign up for 20-minute time slots and then to offer either the Long Healing Prayer or other prayers of their choice during that time. “This was a nice way to think about hosting prayer gatherings,” said Mrs. Jauca. “You don’t always have to be together to be united.”

14 Year Old Junior Youth From The Harewood Neighbourhood

A 14-year-old junior youth from the Harewood neighbourhood in Nanaimo, B.C., who will be dedicating part of his summer to service in memory of the 215 children whose remains were found in Kamloops, B.C.

In the Harewood neighbourhood in Nanaimo, B.C., where many of the people engaged in community-building activities are of Indigenous background, one junior youth from the wider community has decided to devote part of his summer to service in the name of the 215 children. Upon hearing the news, the animators in his neighbourhood reached out in support to his family and others. It was in consultation with these families that the idea came about to form a new junior youth group this summer in honour of these children and their families.

As another tribute to preserve the memory of those children whose lives were lost, one father in the neighbourhood suggested that, at an upcoming junior youth camp, participants carry out a service project of creating 215 wooden feathers to be hung on the fence of their housing complex.