Sit-in held at Ryerson statue to commemorate children found buried at residential school
Demonstrators in Toronto staged a sit-in in front of the Egerton Ryerson statue on the downtown university's campus Monday to mourn and pay tribute to the 215 children found buried in an unmarked grave at Kamloops Indigenous Residential School last week.
The sit-in was organized by a group of "Indigenous Students fighting for social justice & human rights @ X University," a name given to the school by students who've chosen to refrain from calling it Ryerson due to the historical figure's role in designing the residential school system.
"There will be a sit in at the X statue on Gould street at X campus," reads an Instagram post shared by the group Monday. "Bring your rattles, drums, your songs, and your shoes! We will be occupying the space until we meet 215 pairs of shoes. Please join us if you can."
Participants gathered near the statue Monday afternoon as some played drums and sang, and they remained at the site until 215 pairs of shoes had been placed on the ground in memory of the 215 children found in the mass grave.
more shoes are coming in, but we welcome more 👟👠👞🥾👢🩰 pic.twitter.com/SyWPHV4pNC— charlize alcaraz (@charlizealcaraz) May 31, 2021
The statue and nearby building were also covered in paint and graffiti with words such as "Dig them up," "Shame," "Land back," Return them home" and "Show the whole world how many of us you have murdered," though it's unclear at this point who is responsible for the graffiti.
This is far from the first time the statue has been vandalized, however, as calls to rename the university and remove the statue have been ongoing for years.
But Monday's sit-in came as people across the country expressed grief and outrage about Canada's horrific treatment of Indigenous children in residential schools, the last of which closed as recently as 1996.
The discovery has also resulted in renewed demands to implement the 94 calls to action in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
On Monday, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett tweeted that a TRC request for $1.5 million in funding from the federal government for a series of projects that would identify burial site locations of children at Canadian residential schools was denied by the Stephen Harper government in 2009.
The TRC report established clearly that this was an issue that needed to be addressed urgently and unfortunately the request for funding from the working group in 2009 was denied.— Carolyn Bennett (@Carolyn_Bennett) May 31, 2021
And while Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised "concrete action" following the discovery of the mass grave, many have said they'll believe it when they see it.
It was genocide and it is ongoing— Jagmeet Singh (@theJagmeetSingh) May 31, 2021
For the #215children we lost, survivors of residential schools and the future of Indigenous children
PM Trudeau must go beyond words
He must immediately end all legal actions against Indigenous children and survivors fighting for their rights pic.twitter.com/tQe4svxDXn
A number of tributes have meanwhile been taking place in Toronto in honour of the 215 children, including a vigil at Nathan Phillips Square this past weekend.
The Toronto Raptors also lowered the flags outside the OVO Athletic Centre for 215 hours in their memory, writing on Twitter that "#WeTheNorth is a rally cry for all Canadians to recognize that further truth & reconciliation is needed."
For 215 hrs we’ll lower our flags @ OVO to honour the memory of the 215 children discovered in a mass grave at a residential school for Indigenous peoples in Kamloops, B.C. #WeTheNorth is a rally cry for all Canadians to recognize that further truth & reconciliation is needed pic.twitter.com/hw9oUdqJN3— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) May 30, 2021
The Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens also held a moment of silence at Scotiabank Arena Monday night to honour the children, though some criticized the fact that they proceeded to sing Canada's national anthem immediately afterwards.
I tuned into “the game” with excitement but the juxtaposition of a moment of silence for 215 murdered children followed immediately by “and now the national anthem” just felt so wrong... it has haunted me since.— Daphne Gilbert (@daphnegilbert) June 1, 2021
The TTC is meanwhile planning to pause service for two minutes at 2:15 p.m. Tuesday.
ATTENTION CUSTOMERS: Tomorrow at 2:15 PM, the TTC will pause service for two minutes in remembrance of the 215 children found at Kamloops Indian Residential School. We pause to honour them and all others who lost their lives to the residential school system.— TTC Service Alerts (@TTCnotices) May 31, 2021
On Sunday, Toronto Mayor John Tory also released a statement about the tragedy.
I know we have all been horrified by the discovery of the bodies of 215 children on the grounds of the Kamloops Indian Residential School in Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation territory. pic.twitter.com/ngJTUhOjDC— John Tory (@JohnTory) May 30, 2021
He promised that the city's flags would be lowered at the request of Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation Chief Stacey Laforme and that the Toronto sign would be dimmed "to further recognize the loss of life and the ongoing need for truth and reconciliation."
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