A Facebook post can take on a life of its own, and sometimes that can be counter productive to what was intended. This was one of the lessons learned in Sharbot Lake this past week by community members who just wanted to make a positive gesture.
Pamela Giroux says that she and her friend, Carole Pepper, wanted to do something positive when they heard about the tragic discovery of 215 children in unmarked graves at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia. “I decided on putting a memorial to those little children who died so long ago in Kamloops, and that the healing garden would be the perfect spot to show love and honor, and to also support the survivors. And I just wanted to send out a good feeling towards our Indigenous people in our area, and all across Turtle Island.”
Giroux explains that she had helped construct the “healing garden” on the grounds of St. James Major Roman Catholic Church in 2013 when her daughter-in-law was going through breast cancer treatments. “I call it my Saint Francis Garden,” she says.
She approached her friend, Marcie Webster, who is a member of the local Shabot Obaadjiwan First Nation and Community Liaison to Chief Doreen Davis. Giroux asked her “to contribute to the memorial and to ask community members if they would like to contribute. She was also checking with me as far as my thoughts from an Indigenous perspective,” says Webster.
And so, between Giroux, Pepper and Webster, and with friends and local businesses making donations, Giroux says, “We had it set up partially last Friday we finished it off with some native dolls and different things.”
Unfortunately, Giroux had not checked with her parish priest before going ahead and didn’t see him until she attended mass. “So, Sunday, when I talked to Father Cyprian about it, he said that he had received a directive from the Archbishop [Michael Mulhall], which was given to all the priests in the diocese that there were to be no memorials left anywhere at the churches, but that he was going to conduct a very special mass with the priests to honour the victims and survivors,” she recalls. “That was how he was planning on doing it, with a special mass.”
For clarification, in a letter to the diocese titled Statement from Archbishop Mulhall Regarding the Former Kamloops Residential School on Wednesday, Jun 2, 2021, Archbishop Mulhall asked “all of the priests in the Archdiocese to celebrate a Mass for the deceased children of the residential schools and the families who mourn them.”
“So,” says Giroux, “I told [Father Cyprian], alright, I don’t want to get you into trouble with the archbishop. I removed it. With a very heavy heart, I took it down.” She was disappointed, she says, but understood that “the directive came from on high, maybe even above the Bishop.”
This was where things took a turn, over which she had very little control. On Monday, Jun. 7, 2021, she says, “My goodness. It was a flurry of emails. What started it, I think, was [that] I sent a picture to my friend in the village who has a Facebook page and everything. And I just said, ‘I had to take this down and that seems wrong.’ And he said, ‘I can you send it to the chief, to Chief Doreen [Davis of the Shabot Obaadjiwan First Nation].’”
Unfortunately though, Giroux’s friend (who has asked not to be named), “must have posted on some other places because it just went viral. It just went out of control. I had no idea,” she explains.
In a conversation with the friend who made the original post, Kingstonist discovered that there was a miscommunication that caused him to indicate in the original Facebook post that “Archbishop Michael Mulhall of the Archdiocese of Kingston has demanded [the memorial’s] removal.”
Kingstonist has since seen the original post shared over 200 times, sometimes under different names, and with additional commentary. One post reads, “KINGSTON ONTARIO!!! You Think Catholics are sorry for what they did? Read this!!! Tell the Archbishop his ride to hell is going to be a hot ticket!” Comments on the post were also often very negative and contained anti-Catholic rhetoric.
“Obviously,” says Giroux, “That was not what I intended at all, absolutely not that. That was the furthest thing from my mind. They were being so negative and it was all about something positive. And, you know, I’m Catholic,” she laments.
Later in the day Monday, Jun. 7, Giroux says, “Father Cyprian called me and he said he had been talking to the Archbishop and the bishop had a change of heart. And he said I could put the memorial back up, which is what I did.”
In the meantime, however, a news article was published by a Frontenac-based news outlet titled, “Parishioner runs afoul of Archbishop over Kamloops Memorial.” The article was also shared multiple times. While it has since been changed, the original version indicated that the Bishop had “demanded the removal of the memorial” and that Father Cyprian Ihedoro had himself been a victim of racism in his role as a parish priest.
Giroux says that that is not accurate at all, and that Father Cyprian, “has put a clarification in our Sunday Bulletin to say he has never at any time experienced any racism in any of his Churches and has always felt warmly received and welcomed by all of us. He felt compelled to explain this because of [the article].”
“[The reporter] has taken down the first article and apologized for any bitterness it may have caused and the confusion in people’s minds. Fr. Cyprian and I are amazed by all the reactions on social media and we both want the focus to be on healing and honouring the lives of the children at Kamloops. Reinstating the Memorial is a step forward on the path to Reconciliation.”
Further, Giroux says she spoke to the man who put up the original post on Facebook. “I called him immediately after talking to Father. I said, ‘Look, you’ve got to change the message. I am putting it back up, the whole thing has changed, and it’s going back up. So I don’t want any more negativity.’”
For her part, Marcie Webster says, “I think the memorial at the church and being allowed there, is a good start in healing, repairing and Truth and Reconciliation.”
Asked for comment, Chief Doreen Davis says, “This community took this on to show their support for the First Nations. And so, I’ve left it to them because they’re the ones that are doing it and I respect them and thank them greatly for it, but it’s their voices that need to be heard. First Nations voices are here. We’re going to do this in our way, with our voices and our songs and our dances and our drumming and in our tears and our screaming, but the public, they need to have that loud, loud voice right now because it’s them that have to listen and them that have to make the change.”
Giroux says she intended just that with her gesture through the memorial.
“That’s what I’m trying to do with the memorial is spread something good and show that, yes, we’re sorry. We are sorry for what happened. We can’t do anything about it, to change what happened, but we could change the way we will move forward,” she says. “My son told me that it is up to the grandmothers, the settlers and the indigenous grandmothers, who can bring healing at this time, he may be right.”