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  • Writer's pictureGreg Powell

Letting the 215 break into our hearts

Updated: Jun 16, 2021

If you are a residential school or intergenerational survivor and this content is upsetting, please call the National Indian Residential School Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419.


I’m slightly ashamed to admit that when I read the headline, I didn’t let it into my heart: a mass grave with the remains of 215 children near a former Indian residential school near Kamloops, BC. We’ve known for some time these graves exist. We’ve known for some time that a shocking proportion of the Indigenous children taken to residential schools did not return home, regularly without advance notice to their parents. We’ve known for some time how devastatingly misguided and evil this whole experiment was. And so my heart had hardened.

I often need ritual to break the hardness, so that what the headline represented would fully sink in.

Update: Listen to a prayer I recorded for the 215, survivors, and all of us.

Fire-keepers are now tending, 24/7, to the Sacred Fire in the quad at the University of Victoria, where the ritual broke open my heart. As I sat, at a distance, with a new and trusted friend, the tears welled behind my sunglasses. The harsh smoke blew in my face, but that wasn’t the cause of the tears. Never mind that my own children, aged 4 and 7, would have been the ages of those taken. Never mind that my ancestors contributed to this system that amounts to attempted genocide. This isn’t about me.

This is about those children--scared, lonely, sick, abused. This is about those families who had no say in the matter but hoped to dear God that their babies would be safe in those dark, stone-cold buildings. This is about the lives that never flourished. This is about the aches and pains inherited from generation to generation that persist today.

This is also about resilience. Settlers sought to annihilate Indigenous Peoples on Turtle Island and they failed. The federal government sought to kill the “Indian” even if killing the child was technically illegal, and it failed. The human drive to dominate and accumulate persists, but is yielding to the desires for unity, community, and wholeness. These good desires are leading to the resurrection of languages, to the rekindling of life-giving rituals.

I believe it is good and healthy to want to do something in response to this heart-breaking uncovering. However, we all are called to resist that desire for now. We are called in this moment to be present to those 215 souls and their families, to allow our hearts to break, and to participate in grief rituals. Indeed, there will be a time for action and accountability. But now is the time to grieve.

If you can visit the Sacred Fire at UVic before Friday at noon, I strongly encourage you to do so. Write a prayer, burn it in the fire. And then sit, and simply be, held in God’s embrace for as long as you need.

- Greg

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