Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
First Nation community members on the South Shore as well as local educators have been quick to respond to news that has gone around the world from Kamploops, B.C., where the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation says it found the remains of 215 children on the site of what used to be Canada's largest residential school.
Acadia First Nation's (AFN's) deputy chief, Avis Johnson, posted a notice from the organization on her Facebook page on May 30 saying "Acadia First Nations flags will be lowered at all locations within our Mi'kmaw nation for 215 hours to honour the children.
"Flags lowered at sunrise at 5:45 a.m. May 31 and raised at sunset June 9 at 8:36 p.m. An additional 16 hours is added to acknowledge and extend respect to all First Nation children who did not make it home."
AFN encompasses six reserves from Yarmouth to Halifax, including Yarmouth, Ponhook, Medway, Wildcat, Gold River, and Hammonds Plains. Additionally, AFN has separate land holdings in Gardner's Mill and Shelburne.
Melissa Labrador, a Mi'kmaw artist who was raised in the Wildcat community in Queens County, posted on Twitter on May 28, "This makes me sick to my stomach. I am so grateful to not have the fear of MY CHILDREN being taken away to a school.....where they may never come home from. This is your history #Canada. as Much as I love my country, this is some of the darkest .... healing will take generations."
Her father, Todd Labrador, a renowned Mi'kmaw traditional canoe builder in Queens County, echoed her sentiment:
"Terrible.....but there's probably more residential school properties with unmarked..Graves as well .......prayers for those children and families," he said on Twitter.
Indigenous communities around the country have been mourning the deaths of the children in B.C. and demanding searches take place at every residential school.
Travis Woodworth of Chester Basin, whose mother was a Mi'kmaw, and his father British, sent in his thoughts to LighthouseNOW by email.
"Can you imagine having your children or family slaughtered and thrown in a hole like trash with no signs or indications of any importance to the self-appointed superior humans," asked Woodworth.
He reported that his grandmother was born on "Native land" in 1903 in Petite Rivière. "Her and her family were eventually relocated in the great centralization program developed by the British Crown."
Woodworth went on to suggest that "this centralization program was developed to move the Natives away from the fertile more habitable land and coastline with fishing second to none."
Pointing to an aboriginal burial ground at Sperrys Beach in Lunenburg County dating back to the 1600s, and other historical accounts of Mi'kmaw traders in Lunenburg County, he said he is aware there were "many Native villages up and down the LaHave Riverway....
"I have come to the conclusion that there are mass graves from one end of this province to the other," said Woodworth, adding, "To not bring these truths to the people is nothing more than repeated genocide that is causing our people here great suffering, pain and trauma, which causes us to abuse alcohol and drugs."
Sheila Porter is the Mi'kmaw youth support worker at Chester Elementary and Chester Area Middle School. She's there to help First Nations students who had to switch schools when Gold River School was closed. Porter also collaborates with the RCMP School Safety Resources Officer, Rod Francis, in running the Gold River Eagle Feather Youth Program. Francis is of Mi'kmaw heritage himself.
Established in 2018, it's an after-school program for First Nations students in Grades 6 to 8 living in Gold River.
Porter is also the co-ordinator of the after school program that goes to Grade 5 on the Gold River Reserve, which is part of Acadia First Nation.
"Ages 12 to 14 is a very vulnerable age and it's great to have the cultural piece. We need to keep that culture alive and keep them going so that they could understand their culture and really embrace it," Porter told LighthouseNOW when the program was launched.
She said at the time that it was important for the students to learn about their heritage because of the ripple effect of residential schools on the current generations.
LighthouseNOW reached out to Porter to discuss the impact of the news from B.C. on the students and whether any additional resources are being put in place to help them cope. However, she declined to be interviewed on the matter.
Ashley Gallant, a spokeswoman for the South Shore Regional Centre for Education (SSRCE), reported in an email on Porter's behalf that "she was not comfortable speaking on this topic."
Gallant went on to say the SSRCE was "heartbroken" to learn of the "tragedy" in Kamloops, and that it is encouraging conversations about residential schools in its classrooms.
"Treaty Education is a tremendously important aspect of the curriculum in all our schools and we understand our role in reconciliation through Treaty Education. This continues to be a focus. Treaty Education allows for each grade level to learn about the Mi'kmaq, treaties, relationships, and reconciliation. These teachings are woven in to the curriculum of every grade level throughout the school year."
In honour of the 215 students, flags at SSRCE schools were lowered for 215 hours or nine days. And all students were encouraged to wear orange when they returned to in-person classes on June 2.
"We also sent a letter to families, providing resources to help," reported Gallant.
LighthouseNOW reached out for comment from AFN Chief Deborah Robinson, and Johnson. However, neither responded by the time of publication.