Floyd Pelkey, left of the Tsawout Nation and Eugene Sam of the Songhees Nation tend the sacred fire at the University of Victoria. The fire, which honours the memory of the 215 Indigenous children lost at a Kamloops residential school, is being kept burning through Friday (June 4). (Photo by Louise Major/UVic Photo Services)

Floyd Pelkey, left of the Tsawout Nation and Eugene Sam of the Songhees Nation tend the sacred fire at the University of Victoria. The fire, which honours the memory of the 215 Indigenous children lost at a Kamloops residential school, is being kept burning through Friday (June 4). (Photo by Louise Major/UVic Photo Services)

Sacred fire burns at University of Victoria to honour 215 children

Everyone is welcome to sit by the fire, or lay down prayers or medicine

A sacred fire burns at the University of Victoria to offer support and to honour the memory of 215 children whose unmarked graves were found by the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops.

The June 1 lighting ceremony, following local protocols and streamed online as only 50 people could attend, included a welcome to the territory, singing and drumming from nations across Vancouver Island and concluded with two minutes and 15 seconds of silence at 2:15 p.m.

Everyone is welcome to sit by the fire, or lay down prayers or medicine. It will be kept going 24 hours a day until Friday, June 4 at noon. There are blank cards to write messages to the children and a container at the fire to leave the messages to be burned in the fire. Smudge bowl and medicine kits are also available.

RELATED: Remains of 215 children found at former B.C. residential school an ‘unthinkable loss’

Across the nation, flags are flying at half-mast for 215 hours to honour and remember the 215 children. At UVic the flags will remain lowered until further notice.

Historically, Indigenous people were mistreated in Canada’s education system – experiences documented through information gathered by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. On Vancouver Island, more than 200 children are known to have lost their lives at residential schools.

“This is a time of deep grief and sadness for Indigenous students, staff and faculty. We are working to support the UVic Elders through this very difficult time, and I ask each of us to offer support to our colleagues and friends who are affected by this news. Your support can and should include the flexibility required to attend to their ceremonial and community needs, to grieve and support others in their lives,” UVic president Kevin Hall said.

UVic is also lighting the Mearns Centre-McPherson Library and university road entrances in orange as a visible symbol of awareness of the need for ongoing reconciliation. The use of orange is connected to Orange Shirt Day.

RELATED: Residential school survivor calling for Canada-wide search of sites after remains of 215 children found

The Indian Residential School Survivors Society offers toll-free 24-hour telephone support for survivors and their families at 1-866-925-4419. Alternately, you can reach out the KUU-US Crisis Line Society 24-hour line at 1-800-588-8717.

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