4-day ceremony underway in Edmonton to honour residential school victims

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A teepee is on the lawn of St. Joseph’s Basilica in Edmonton to honour the bodies of 215 children found buried at a former residential school in Kamloops.

The teepee and sacred fire are part of a multi-day ceremony of healing and prayer.

“There will be four days of ceremony, there will be pipe ceremonies, there will be drumming, singing, dancing and feasting, all in prayer,” organizer Elder Taz Augustine said.

“We chose this church particularly. We want to hold the churches accountable for the atrocities that happened to the children — not just the 215, but the many bodies they will end up finding.”

With many fingers now pointing towards the Catholic Church, Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith issued an apology online while sitting beside Treaty Six First Nations Grand Chief Wilton Littlechild.

“I deeply regret Catholic participation in government policies that resulted in children being separated from their families and often suppressed Aboriginal language and culture at the residential school. This should never have happened to you. The residential school system itself should never have happened,” Smith said.

While that apology may be one of many, it is little comfort for Augustine.

“Any apology that the Oblates have put out, we don’t accept it. We don’t want apologies. We want accountability. We want people to be charged with crimes. We want them put in jail. Some of them are still alive, the accomplices who kept it all silent,” Augustine said.

While many questions remain unanswered, Augustine and those at St. Joseph’s said they will take this opportunity to pray and heal.

“I just hope for change. Our people don’t deserve this anymore. We’re not animals. We deserve to live a happy life like everyone else,” ceremony supporter Crystal Tremblay said.

The sacred fire ceremony will be held until Tuesday.

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