The story behind the removal of Parliament Hill’s memorial to residential schools

OTTAWA – The federal government had originally hoped to remove a Parliament Hill memorial dedicated to native children who died and disappeared from residential schools months earlier than actually happened last year, according to recently released documents.

Hundreds of tiny shoes, stuffed animals and flowers began to appear around the Centennial Flame in front of Parliament’s center block last spring after Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Nation announced ground-penetrating radar had found the possible remains of about 200 children at the site of a former residential school near Kamloops. , BC

The Parliament Hill Memorial was one of many that appeared across the country as Canadians were confronted with the horrors native children faced when they were removed from their families and forced to go to these institutions for more than a century .

It became a place where both original elders and tourists would stand in silence.

According to the documents, officials with Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs initially wanted to hold a ceremony to remove the display last summer before the much-anticipated election campaign.

They also advised departments to make a plan for handling similar memorials in the future.

“The removal is recommended primarily to ensure the preservation of these items,” reads a memorandum prepared for the department’s deputy minister and published to The Canadian Press through federal legislation on access to information.

“Furthermore, a memorial can not remain at its current location given the need for regular maintenance of the Centennial Flame for health and safety issues.”

The document outlines that officials consulted with Algonquin Anishinabeg Nation, whose traditional territory includes Ottawa, and national indigenous organizations on how to proceed. Everyone agreed that the memorial should be removed respectfully.

The preferred option among the three presented was to hold a ceremony the week before August 15th. As officials predicted, it ended up being the day that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asked the governor-general to dissolve parliament, triggering the September 21 election.

“The event was to take place in the week of August 8 to include ministerial participation and deregistration, as it is expected that the Government of Canada will enter the letter period in the week of August 15,” the document reads.

Officials said they envisioned the Algonquin Anishinabeg Nation leading the ceremony “in cooperation with the Government of Canada” and that consultation would be needed to determine the role of department heads.

The document says officials had trouble reaching the first nation to complete the planning.

“While it would be possible to proceed with removal, as it is in the best interests of Canadians and could well be understood as a regular government matter, it would also be necessary to ensure that any decisions can be made by ministers prior to the writing period.”

Eventually, the memorial remained for two more months until the end of October, when under the leadership of Algonquin elders it was quietly taken down by about 20 people, including ward officials, without any official notice.

The acting chief of staff of the First Nations tribal council at the time told The Canadian Press that objects were blessed before they were removed, and many of them had been soaked by rainfall. The plan was that objects considered sacred were to be burned in a ceremonial fire.

In a memorandum prepared for the Deputy Minister of Relations between the Crown and Indigenous and Northern Affairs after the removal, officials said that “many of the objects were in an advanced state of degradation.”

“Finally, a procedure must be established for when future memorials will be left by the public on Parliament Hill.”

A spokesman for Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada said items from the memorial remain in stock.

“Sacred objects were removed and carefully stored at 115 Sparks, where (Public Services and Procurement Canada) has monitored air quality and humidity levels to ensure proper preservation until they can be delivered to Algonquin Anishinabeg First Nation.”

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on March 23, 2022

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