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Gathering outside St. Andrew's Church honours 215 victims of Kamloops residential school

Sombre event highlighted by visitor’s quest to do 215 burpees, one for every child found in unmarked grave
It was a Facebook post that led to close to 50 people gathering outside of St. Andrew’s United Church on Tuesday evening with the aim of holding a flash mob round dance to honour the 215 victims found in an unmarked grave at a Kamloops residential school.

While the dance itself didn’t happen, folks still spent time at the makeshift memorial on the steps of the local church, quietly talking while taking in the powerful display of more than 500 tiny shoes representing the lives lost. 

Among the many was Lori Deets of the Wakamow Aboriginal Community Association, who took in the event with her son and wore an orange shirt representative of the Every Child Matters movement.

It’s been a time where many have been rendered speechless by the scope of the tragedy, a feeling Deets -- herself a survivor of the 60s Scoop -- understands.

“There’s lots to say, so much to say that I think that’s why people don’t know what to say,” she said. “There are so many aspects to this and I think it’s going to take time for it to sink in, all of the consequences of this and what it actually says.”

A long-time advocate for Indigenous people in Moose Jaw, not only has Deets been through the system, she knows far too many who have been in similar situations and been harmed.

“That’s what this means to us, we know that pain and we’ve lived that pain,” she said. “You look at the children here with their families, my son, too, they’re standing on the backs of hundreds of thousands of Indigenous children.”

Bobbie Isbester from La Ronge was one of the participants in the gathering and brought a similar sentiment.

“Aw, it’s just so sad,” said Isbester, an electrician working on the Great Plains Power Plant project. “My grandmother was in the residential schools and my dad was part of the 60s Scoop and all that. So it was part of my history growing up… It’s good that it brings people together, lets them know that we’re not alone in this suffering. It’s nice to see that people support each other, Aboriginals supporting Aboriginal people and non-Indigenous people supporting Aboriginal people as well. It brings a lot of love and that’s exactly what we need.”

Isbester brought a challenge to the event -- upon showing up to the gathering, he announced he was going to do 215 burpees in front of the church, one for each child lost and now found.

“I’ve had battles with drugs and alcohol and I’m slowly getting back on my good life, so I turned to health and fitness to help me better my life,” he said. “So I thought I’d come over here and do 215 burpees… I was going to do it in a field, but then I saw all this and thought it would be a better place to do it.”

He got through 70 by himself, drawing applause for his efforts, before members of the crowd joined in to help complete the 215. By the time that number had been reached, dozens of folks were working through the cardio-taxing exercise.

“I’m just happy I got some help from the people here, they saved me from having to do 215 burpees myself,” Isbester said with a laugh.

The memorial remains in place at St. Andrew’s, with visitors continuing to drop off shoes, stuffed animals, flowers and notes of support.

Flags continue to fly at half staff on government buildings for 215 hours -- nine days -- in honour of each body found in the unmarked grave.