Editor’s note: This story contains details that may be traumatic for some readers.
Kivalliqmiut gathered on May 28 to mourn and support each other following the discovery of a mass grave for 215 children at a former residential school in British Columbia.
In Rankin Inlet, Jacqueline Apak and Cassandra Nattar organized a vigil at the Inukshuk in the centre of town on June 1 to honour the 215 children who perished.
“The reason we did this and put our hearts to this is because both our mothers were in residential school,” said Apak.
Nattar added, “We saw on the news about the story, so Jacqueline messaged me if I would like to help her bring some shoes to the Inukshuk.”
Although it was planned at the last minute, approximately 100 people showed up to the vigil. RCMP and members of the Rankin Inlet Fire Department even came to place teddy bears at the base of the Inukshuk. The Northern Store also closed during the hour-long vigil and donated toys and shoes to be placed at the site.
‘We are all heartbroken’
At the vigil, community members were given the opportunity to speak. Jennifer Roseanna Floyd, who is originally from British Columbia and now lives in town, told the crowd that her sister had attended the residential school in Kamloops. She told those gathered that her sister went missing and was never found.
Apak said there was a huge outpouring of support after Floyd shared her story.
“We were all heartbroken. Everyone around the circle started praying and crying with her,” she said. “I just want to send my support in respect to all the survivors and everyone impacted.”
Several days after the vigil, Floyd posted on Facebook to thank the community for the outpouring of support she has received.
In addition to Floyd, Esther Powell, Selma Eccles and Elder Levinia Brown gave speeches at the vigil. Apak and Nattar invited Brown to share her experience from residential school and lead a prayer for those in attendance.
Baker Lake residents also gathered for a vigil and a moment of silence at 2:15 p.m. on May 31. Another vigil was held in the community on June 4, the same day that Chesterfield Inlet held its own vigil.
Several schools across the region also organized memorials to honour the 215 children whose remains were found.
‘These are calls to action’
The Kivalliq was home to four of the territory’s 16 residential schools – in Rankin Inlet, Arviat, Baker Lake and the notorious Turquetil Hall in Chesterfield Inlet.
The discovery of the children’s’ bodies, which has sent shock waves through Indigenous communities across the country, provides concrete evidence to back up the claims of survivors who testified about the existence of mass graves at residential schools during Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings.
It has also led to widespread calls from communities and Indigenous leaders to investigate every residential school site in the country for similar graves.
On June 2, the UN Human Rights Office added clout to the movement by requesting all levels of government to open a full investigation into the potential existence of further mass graves.
The NDP is also demanding that the federal government make good on fulfilling the 94 calls to action that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommended in its final report.
“The (Liberals) keep patting themselves on the back for doing more than the previous government, which is a slap in the face because they are not doing the bare minimum.” Nunavut MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq told Kivalliq News. “These aren’t recommendations. These are calls to action.”
Qaqqaq said the lack of response from many non-Indigenous Canadians in the past week speaks volumes about where the country stands when it comes to reconciliation.
“The country did not stop. The country decides it’s going to argue about this. I think of the (Humboldt) Broncos. The country stopped and mourned and grieved,” she said. “We uncovered 200 children, brown babies and the country kept breathing, the country kept moving, the country kept arguing, and we continue to say we just want basic human rights.”