On the evening before Canada Day, Taria Soames and her mom Jorie left a memorial at the end of their driveway at their Kelowna home.
It paid tribute to the Indigenous children whose remains have been discovered at the sites of former residential schools across Canada over the last few months.
For Taria, she wanted people walking around the neighbourhood on July 1 to acknowledge the atrocities committed on Canadian soil on the nation’s birthday.
“Sometimes, we’re not celebrating Canada for the right reasons. It’s important to know the history of Canada and not just be ignorant to it,” she said.
Jorie said erecting the memorial was a way for her to grieve with Indigenous neighbours in the community.
“Now that it’s public, their grief will be different than when they already knew but it was not public. So they have to grieve again now,” said Jorie.
The memorial was simple yet poignant: a giant teddy bear sitting on a giant orange chair, surrounded by children’s shoes and a light source.
The numbers of unmarked graves discovered in the past few months at the sites of former residential schools in Kamloops, Cranbrook, Manitoba and Saskatchewan were also written on the chair.
The tribute, Jorie said, spoke for itself.
“I think that the memorial itself was a memorial in a truer sense. It didn’t need an explanation,” she said. “They don’t want to educate. They just make a statement.”
But just five days later, on July 5, the memorial at the end of their driveway was gone.
“It was almost disbelief. It was just this shock,” said Taria. “When you surround yourself with a community that understands either your political views or ideology, you sometimes become closed off to the people that don’t understand Indigenous issues.”
For Jorie, she said that she felt a sense of deep grief when the memorial was gone.
“I couldn’t imagine how it would feel to have my child stolen. As a mom, I can’t imagine that kind of grief,” she said. “The chair just gave me a little, tiny, maybe open window, to that grief. I honestly couldn’t even go near it.”
On the day that the memorial was gone, the two left a sign in the same spot that asked that the tribute be returned.
“The memorial was taken, and here’s why it’s disrespectful. Because of the Indigenous children, because of the history of Canada. That’s why it was disrespectful to take it,” said Toria.
“We felt it was important, if by chance it had been taken out of ignorance, to at least put a bit of educational content on the sign.”
The memorial has not been returned, and the two don’t expect it to come back. They have no idea who may have taken it, but Jorie wished a blessing upon whoever is responsible for its disappearance.
“The memorial is a blessing in itself. Now, they’re part of it, whether they want to be or not,” she said. “Whoever picked it up is going to learn about this. I have no doubt about that. They’re going to learn now what that memorial meant. Someone is going to tell them, and that’s a blessing.”