Roughly 751 backpacks rest on the steps of the Saskatchewan Legislature Thursday to honour the lives lost at the Marieval Indian Residential School on the Cowessess First Nation.
The backpacks are all marked with an orange hand print to show each Indigenous person who never made it home after being forced to attend the school.
Prairie Crowe organized the backpack display as well as the shoes that lined the steps of the Legislature a number of weeks ago to honour the 215 unmarked graves found at the Kamloops Residential School site. She says admittedly, she wasn’t going to make a display for this tragedy at first.
“Through brainstorming and discussion with some friends, I thought I wanted to do some orange hand-prints at first somewhere, but I didn’t want it to be thought of as vandalism because I would have done them in like paint, or I wanted to do 751 orange-something,” Crowe said. “I wanted to do ribbons or hand-prints, but I didn’t really have a location to do that with, and then a friend suggested putting the hand-prints on the backpacks.”
Crowe says in a way, this was a major step up from the shoes to honour Kamloops.
“I thought backpacks represented school children, and it was different from the shoes,” Crowe said. “We could’ve probably did shoes again, but I just wanted to do something different instead to still have a visual impact. With the shoes I wanted to (show) what 215 children would look like — their shoes taking their place kind of thing — so I just thought the backpacks was a similar, but different, way to do it.”
Crowe says one agency will be filling the backpacks with school supplies before they are all donated to inner city youth.
“I k now that they wanted to take some to some reserves and stuff, so we’ll be having to make those connections after with that, and bring in all of the backpacks that are appropriate,” Crowe said. “Any that aren’t appropriate — like if there’s logos or such things that wouldn’t be very good for children — we’re still going to donate them to other agencies.”
The backpacks will be on display during a vigil Thursday, also in honour of the 751 Indigenous children who never made it home.