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Indigenous community in Grand Rapids hosts vigil/protest to hold the Catholic Church accountable for genocidal acts perpetrated against Indigenous children

June 4, 2021

Last night, about 150 people came out to participate in the Every Child Matters Vigil/Protest that was organized by local Indigenous women who had recently organized a protest against the disappearance/death of Indigenous girls/women in recent years throughout the so-called United States.

The gathering of mostly indigenous people was a direct response to the recent news about the remains of 215 indigenous children that were discovered in British Colombia near a boarding school. 

The vigil/protest took place at Ah-Nab-Awen Park in downtown Grand Rapids, which began with drumming and included traditional dancing, an honor song and several speakers. 

Many of the people who spoke talked about the historical trauma that occurred with indigenous children being forcibly removed from their community and sent to the so-called boarding schools. For years, First Nations communities have been uncovering new information and providing space for people to share their lived experience at these schools that existed all across the country. 

The United Nations Convention on Genocide names the forcible removal of indigenous children who were placed in so-called boarding schools as a form of genocide.

Shannon Martin, who is the director of the Ziibiwing Center in Mt. Pleasant, said that people need to grieve and people need to be angry about the recent discovery of the remains of 215 indigenous children. Martin said that the residential schools that were created in the US, were duplicated in other countries, like Australia, which have also used the forcible relocation of indigenous children to schools that have been operated by either governments or by churches, particularly the Catholic Church. 

Another speaker, Joe Cadreau, talked about how we need to stop calling these places schools and start referring to them as extermination camps. Cadreau also spoke about the need to purge Christian and Catholic elements from their tribes, especially considering how much harm these religious groups have perpetrated against indigenous people, particularly indigenous children.

The vigil/protest organizers then invited people to march with them over to St. Mary’s Catholic Church, which was just a few blocks west of Ah-Nab-Awen Park. Almost everyone who was at the park marched to the church, where people were invited to place children’s shoes, stuffed animals, flowers and signs that demonstrated the awful crimes that were committed against indigenous children at these boarding schools. Again, prayers were offered and songs were sung. It was a powerful moment when the items were laid in front of the church’s front door. It was a collective action of accountability, and it sent a strong message to the Catholic Church about their role in committing these acts of genocide. In many ways, what the local indigenous community did last night was historic. We shall see what sort of response the Grand Rapids Catholic Diocese will have, if any.

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