More than 100 people marched from the Midnight Sun Complex to the Mackenzie River East Branch on June 13 to show their solidarity with children whose remains are being discovered beneath residential schools across the country.
Gathering at the site of the former Grollier Hall, people from all walks of life stepped in unison towards the Mackenzie River boat launch, where they tied ribbons to two trees and each threw a flower into the river.
“There were requests from community members and Elders to do something, have somewhere to put the grief, sorrow and anger that has reignited,” said co-organizer Rachel Schooley. “Someone spoke of the simple but powerful memorial in Aklavik, and we realized that maybe it doesn’t need to be an elaborate event; it’s more important to have it done quickly, to provide space for people.”
Schooley organized the walk with her co-workers, Jeffrey Amos, Susen Peffer and Susan Keats. Lisa Keegan-Drennan, Natasha Kulikowski, Sheila O’Kane and Kelsey Millar also helped organize the walk.
It was both a showing of support for survivors across Canada, but also gave survivors themselves a chance to work through trauma resurfaced by the recently discovered massacres.
“People need a safe way to share and grieve,” said Keats. “They need to know that they are not alone and that we stand together in a common humanity. The community expressed a need for a way to grieve and show public support and so the Mental Health and Awareness Working Group, in addition to providing healing circles, planned a memorial walk to show support.
“Thank you and please reach out to the resources around you if you need additional support.”
While the organizers knew there was great interest in having a memorial walk, even they admitted they were blown away by the huge numbers of people who turned out to show their respects.
“We were so happy that so many people came out to support and pay tribute for loss of loved ones who had died in residential school and in support of the little ones found under the residential school,” said Peffer. “It’s all important when there is tragedy we support one another for the greater good. I would like to say thank you all for coming and showing your support, it was good to see the community coming together, it gives me strength to carry on.
“Thank you for caring.”
Upon arriving at the river, several prayers were offered in both Gwich’in and Inuvilaluktun and the Inuvialuit Drum Dancers performed several pieces while children danced. People gathered into a large healing circle around River Park as survivors told stories and Elders offered more prayers.
Finally, the drummers lead the crowd to the boat launch, where they cast fresh Lupines picked from Boot Lake into the river.
Many of the survivors who joined the march said they were floored by the support from the community and expressed their thanks.
“When I pulled in and saw the huge amount of people, I almost teared up,” said Amos. “I am a third-generation survivor of residential school, during my time in residence, several former students didn’t make it back home. And this news kinda hit home. The support was great. Seeing the children gather in the middle was the highlight.
“Thank you Inuvik.”