By Charlie Senack
A Barrhaven woman who is travelling to Saskatchewan has collected messages and items of support to share with community members in Cowessess First Nation, where 751 unmarked graves of Indiginous children were recently discovered.
Saskatchewan native Alison Kinahan said she recently made the last-minute decision to return home and visit family after COVID-19 restrictions started to loosen. After hearing the news of countless unmarked graves at former residential schools, she wanted to do something to show support with Indiginous communities.
“This was an opportunity to bring messages of support and solidarity to the people of Cowessess First Nation, and to let them know that we believe them; we stand with them; we support them; and we know that we must do more as settlers,” Kinahan told the Barrhaven Independent.
Kinahan, who is an educator, said she studied First Nations, Inuit and Métis cultures, while in teachers college in the 1990’s, and is one of her teachables. Now, as Kinahan becomes vice principal of Holy Trinity High School in Kanata, she plans to bring her knowledge to the table in order to ensure everyone knows about the devastation residential schools caused.
Roughly 20-30 items were collected, said Kinahan, from residents all across the city. The educator put a post on Twitter saying she’d be collecting posters or signs with messages of support, at her Barrhaven home up until 5 p.m. on Sunday, June 27.
“I say items because I got traditional cedar that I was gifted to bring; it’s one of four sacred medicines and it’s not very well grown in Saskatchewan,” said Kinahan. “I have some hand-made pieces of clothing; they are beautifully hand-made and they are a ribbon skirt and a ribbon shirt for young children. A beautiful blanket; some cards were dropped off from people across the city; and a beautiful painting by a 15-year-old student from Ottawa. There are so many items for children and young adults so it’s a great range in age.”
In late May 2021, 215 Indigenous children’s remains were found at Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia. A few weeks later, as many as 751 unmarked graves were discovered at Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan. Shortly after Kinahan launched her initiative, 182 unmarked grave sites were discovered near the location of a former residential school in the South Interior of British Columbia. Now that ground radar searches are continuing, it’s expected hundreds, if not thousands of unmarked graves will be found, adding to Canada’s dark past with residential schools.
Kinahan made the 30 hour-long drive from Barrhaven to Saskatchewan, and says she’s excited to see her family for the first time in two years. She’s also honoured to have the opportunity to share these acts and gifts of kindness with the Cowessess First Nation community. Kinahan says the items will be dropped off at the lands or health office sometime in mid July.