Shriti Gandhi wanted to do more.
But what could she do? She wanted to be sure her children understood what had happened to the 215 children buried on the property of the largest of the residential schools in Canada, this particular one in Kamloops, B.C.
The children she, like all of us, was shocked to hear about as the horrific news unfolded about the discovery of their remains.
Gandhi posted a notice in her Cannery Park neighbourhood of St. Davids Monday, asking for others to join her in creating a memorial, an opportunity to mourn the children, all the children taken from the families, and some of them buried far from home, outside of their own communities and apart from their loved ones.
“I’m not sure many people will see it,” she says, hoping the poster would encourage others to put out teddy bears, or shoes, as other communities were doing, to mourn the little ones who were not returned to their families.
“I’m a mom, and this is the most I can do, to try to teach my kids,” she says of her eight and five year old.
Just as kids have a pink shirt day to raise awareness about bullying, they have an orange shirt day as a reminder that every child matters, to raise awareness of residential schools and all the experience of children who attended them, she says.
“I’m not sure how much they talk about it in school,” says Gandhi.
“Every year since my kids have been at St. Davids they’ve had an orange shirt day, and we’ve had a conversation with our kids. It can be pretty graphic, and upsetting, but I don’t want them to think it’s just like a crazy hat day or another fun day. We talk a a lot about anti-racism. It’s really front-of-mind for us.”
She and her husband were both born and raised in Canada, of East Indian parents.
She has recently joined the town’s inclusivity and diversity committee discussions, she says.
“There needs to be an informed conversation about our feelings of what it’s like to live in Niagara-on-the-Lake.”
And it’s important to her to be part of that discussion, she adds, to ensure the town she has chosen to raise her family is aware and inclusive.
She’s lived in St. Davids for five years, “and I want to be sure this is a community that welcomes everyone. It’s definitely top of mind for more people than ever. And today is an opportunity to show our support, to recognize what has happened in the past, and to engage our children, to talk to them and be sure they understand. We don’t know a lot about this part of our history and we don’t talk enough about it. We need to learn the whole of our history, not just the good parts.”
It was a small group of neighbours who joined her memorial, but it was enough for her children to understand. It was a start.