I needed to feel my mother’s presence after possible gravesites were found at her residential school

This poem is the experience of Vivian Ketchum, a Winnipeg-based residential school survivor and writer.

In January 2023,  the community of Wauzhushk Onigum Nation in northwestern Ontario confirmed the discovery of evidence of 170 “plausible burials” at a former residential school site, following a round of ground-penetrating radar searches that detected the anomalies.

It was same residential school that Vivian Ketchum’s late mother (and several other relatives) once attended. Ketchum says she wrote this poem to feel her mother’s presence and seek comfort in her memory.

Mom, I can’t hear your voice at the moment.

Can’t hear your softness of words that are comforting.

Can’t recall the softness of your face.

How your hair used to curl in the hot summer days.

Mom, I need to feel your presence.

Feeling lost.

Feeling angry.

Feeling a load of grief.

Has the news of today

of the 171 anomalies found

at your former school

deafened your presence to me?

Possible Little Ones.

Cousins, aunties, uncles.

A woman with black hair and glasses, wearing a grey sweatshirt and blue jeans, sits on a rocky shoreline with a lake and evergreen trees behind her.
Viv Ketchum’s mother Mae, during a shoreline picnic at Shoal Lake. ‘This is how I like to remember her,’ Ketchum says. (Submitted by Vivian Ketchum)

No, Little One

I have not forgotten you.

I am dancing with the relatives found.

Grieve for now

but dance with us

for they have

found them.

They are not forgotten.

Dance Little One

They have found them.

Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools or by the latest reports.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.

Mental health counselling and crisis support is also available 24 hours a day, seven days a week through the Hope for Wellness hotline at 1-855-242-3310 or online at www.hopeforwellness.ca.

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