Looking to pay its respects to those whose bodies were discovered buried around former residential schools, an Elmira church is encouraging residents to join an orange-ribbon campaign.
Trinity United Church has made available strips of cloth so that the public can tie a ribbon around the railing and offer a prayer. It’s also encouraging people to make donations to Indigenous groups that are working to save the evidence or are working at healing.
The initiative follows recent revelations of bodies discovered in B.C. and Saskatchewan, the most recent discovery where some 751 people are believed to be buried in unmarked graves at the Marieval Indian Residential School, which operated from 1899 to 1997 in the area that is home to Cowessess First Nation.
“Like so many other Canadians, we were shocked to hear the news about the tragedy, discovering all these unmarked graves – even if someone had read the whole truth and reconciliation report, it’s still was very sobering to hear the news,” said Rev. Sue Campbell of Trinity United Church.
“We wanted to respond in some tangible way, and certainly United Church of Canada has made an apology in 1986 – that was the first apology – and another apology to survivors of residential schools and their families.”
In light of the recent residential school findings, the church wanted to have a tangible public witness to raise awareness in the community and to, in a very small way, try to honour those children and their families, said Campbell.
“This is just a small, little memorial. We invite people to take a piece of cloth, to offer a prayer and people who aren’t sure what to say, we’ve written one that they may choose to use.”
“The ultimate goal is reconciliation and all the forms that that means, everything from encouraging the government to keep Indigenous issues at the forefront of their policies – to land issues.”
Campbell said she’d like to see such efforts help create a stronger sense of community, perhaps leading to action on a longstanding issue.
“I’m so encouraged to see what is beginning to happen across the country as I listen to the news, as people become more aware – I think it’s important to learn each other’s stories so that it creates a stronger sense of community. So, by learning more of the stories of indigenous folks maybe we’ll have a lot more compassion,” she said.
“There’s a box kept just outside the front door and people are welcome to come and take a ribbon, at any time, doesn’t have to be Sunday, and to take a ribbon and tie it. This past Sunday a women took six ribbons because she has six grandchildren and she thought ‘yeah, I can’t imagine that happening to my grandchildren.’ It was some small gesture but it seemed to me like it was a commitment on her part to start to learn more.”