Orange crosswalks commemorate children who attended residential schools

To commemorate the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation last year, Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) artist Wyler Diome-Montour designed t-shirts for his community.

This year, he came up with the idea to do something that would be even more visible to honor residential school survivors and children who never came home: design bright orange crosswalks.

« Overall, it’s a small gesture, but every gesture counts, » said Diome-Montour, from Kahnawake, south of Montreal.

Diome-Montour recently graduated from Parsons School of Design in New York and approached his father, who works at the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake, about the idea. The organization jumped on board.

Just under a dozen crosswalks across Kahnawake, most surrounding local elementary schools, were repainted bright orange Wednesday with white eagle feather stencils.

On Wednesday, workers stenciled eagle feathers on a freshly painted crosswalk outside Kateri School in Kahnawake, south of Montreal. (Ka’nhehsi:io Deer/CBC)

« The eagle feather is a symbol of strength, healing and protection, » Diome-Montour said.

« When we talk about protecting children, protecting children’s legacies and caring for those who have suffered this trauma… it just felt right to do a design like that. »

Similar crosswalks also appeared this week in downtown Kitchener, Ont., and Fredericton.

The fresh paint outside Leo Hayes High School in Fredericton is meant to raise awareness and build allies, said guidance counselor Juliana Paul, who is Wolastoqey from Sitansisk (St. Mary’s First Nation).

“Inclusion and representation is super important, especially as we remember and mourn this week,” she said.

« To move forward we need to reflect on our past and it is important that we have these symbolic representations so that we can learn to move forward in the right direction. »

orange crosswalk
The new crosswalk in front of Leo Hayes High School in Fredericton. (Edwin Hunter/CBC)

In Kahnawake, two of the schools where the new crosswalks are painted were once Indian day schools. Like the residential school system, Indian day schools also aimed to assimilate Indigenous children while eradicating Indigenous languages ​​and cultures, and often had religious affiliations.

Today, the community runs the schools.

« You have to be creative when it comes to raising awareness because there are flags and shirts, but crosswalks — you’re talking about the safety of children crossing the street to go to school, » said said Joe Delaronde, press officer for the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake.

“The symbolism is incredible.«


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