May 27th, a well-manicured Canadian facade shattered when ground-penetrating radar confirmed a suspected mass grave of 215 Onkwehonwe children. Within days the story made its way around the world; temporary memorials popped up throughout the country. Still, as these little makeshift memorials went up, several were removed quickly, including one in the small town of Dunnville, Ontario.
Sammie Ne Hiyawak shared the collective grief like many Onkwehonwe as their late father attended the Shoal Lake residential school for eight years. They are among many families experiencing residual residential school system impacts.
On June 7th, five pairs of small, well-worn shoes were placed on one of the church’s two entrances. Pastor Sunny Sebastian removed them later that evening. Local supporters had initially replaced the shoes the next day. Still, after learning that the shoes and other items were not aesthetically pleasing memorial items for this Church, relocation efforts started.
Grace United stepped up and acknowledged that its time to not only address the residential school systems but to act on the words within those apologies.
For supporters, that meant walking the shoes the four blocks to the nearby Grace United church.
While we don’t know how long this memorial will stay, For some, It has shown an effort that hasn’t always been there.
“It meant a lot to us that they were so welcoming and so intent on doing their job in holding up the words in their apology regarding residential schools but also showing genuine actions. Their words were not just lip service,” said Sammie referring to the gesture by Grace United.