Residential school survivor documents ‘spiritual journey’ – and photos are powerful

Orange ribbons are banging on the rear-view mirrors of the cars. Native drums on the speakers. The landscape slowly changes from flat yellow plains to huge green trees and, finally, to mountains. Our spiritual journey is at our doorstep. I feel it’s spiritual. Prayer, purification and ceremonies. Teach and share as we meet people. They see us in our orange shirts. Tears flow along the way, but we support each other.

We don’t just come with the Sacred Pack and freebies; we come with our own personal residential school stories. It’s a bond, and the thing that brought us together. I hear from other people who, like me, have been drawn to this trip. It wasn’t an “if” or “might” type feeling; it was a must. We have all been called for this pilgrimage. We each have our gifts to share. Sweetgrass is stronger when braided together. The same goes for this group of grandmothers and mothers on a spiritual journey to the mountains.

It’s me. Vivian Ketchum, an Anishinabe “gramma” from Kenora, Ontario / Treaty 3, at a stop in Swift Current, Saskatchewan. We invited other Indigenous women to join us, becoming a group of 12 as we left Winnipeg on June 28 for Kamloops, B.C., bringing solidarity to communities where anonymous graves containing remains. children were found on the sites of former residential schools. (Photo: Vivian Ketchum)

Children’s moccasins at a memorial in Kamloops. (Photo: Vivian Ketchum)

The holy fire burns at a children’s memorial at the Manitoba Legislature in May. (Photo: Vivian Ketchum)

Toddlers on each site. (Photo: Vivian Ketchum)

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Coming up with gifts that you haven’t had a chance to play with. Prayers you never had the chance to hear. The love of a suffering community. A community that shares its history with yours.

Yes, the grandmothers are coming. Warrior grandmothers who will demand justice. We are coming, Little ones.

On the road in Saskatchewan. (Photo: Vivian Ketchum)
Grand Chief Jerry Daniels of the Southern Chiefs’ Organization at a ceremony in Cowessess, Saskatchewan in June. (Photo: Vivian Ketchum)
The truth about our rear window. (Photo: Vivian Ketchum)
We left our tears on Cowessess Cemetery (site of Marieval boarding school). We played drums and sang children’s songs. Loud and soft enough for toddlers to hear. The whispers have become the truth. (Photo: Vivian Ketchum)


Lift up your prayers in the east. We give the sacred package to the chief today. I dreamed of a mother crying for her child. I couldn’t shake the dream. He kept replaying in my sleep. I share my story with another residential school survivor. She is over 80 years old. A guardian of the knowledge of the language. I am comforted. He feels so good. Healing.

Gramma Shingoose gives a little more love to the copper vessel containing the ashes of the holy fire in Manitoba. (Photo: Vivian Ketchum)
On July 2, Chief Rosanne Casimir of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation in Kamloops receives the ashes and the sacred bundle, which we filled with things like an eagle feather, moccasins, a Métis belt and sacred medicines. – sage, tobacco, sweet grass and cedar. (Photo: Vivian Ketchum)
Gramma Shingoose is overcome with emotion before visiting Cowessess’ grave. (Photo: Vivian Ketchum)
Me holding the hand of a residential school survivor. (Photo: Vivian Ketchum)


We travel together for a week, journeying towards a spiritual goal. Show support for a grieving community. There are no arguments or scrabbles over who the boss is. Instead, we each use our individual gifts. Each obstacle was overcome through a group effort. When one was weak, another took over. We have reached our goal and completed our trip.

I think Manitoba needs an aboriginal woman chief. We are getting things done. Endless black paving stone. Lead home. I can go home. I can see my family. I can see the sunset once more. People know my name. I manage to…

Gramma Shingoose at the Residential School Memorial in Kamloops, BC (Photo: Vivian Ketchum)
Kamloops Indian Residential School. (Photo: Vivian Ketchum)
Gramma Shingoose’s daughter Billy Shingoose, standing strong. (Photo: Vivian Ketchum)
Return home to Winnipeg. (Photo: Vivian Ketchum)

Me in a Saskatchewan field before visiting Cowessess. (Photo: Vivian Ketchum)


Jumping rope
Dutch double

In a chain.
Yellow buttercup flower

Under the chin

Do you like butter

The smell of grass

Mixed with the smell of
a sewer nearby.
The shiny swing
With its long chains
The chains of the swing

Who pinched the palms
From your hands

Monkey bars
Still too scared of
Go up
My feet and my hands
Were too small.
The group of trees
With its sticky sap
The green hedge with
Its thorny bushes
He walked around the building

This basement window

With this strange mirror
It distorted your image
If you were dancing in
The gray staircase that

Children knew how to avoid
Strange things
These stairs
In this office
It looks picturesque
But it was my prison
As a child
Where i learned
Where the whisper

Has begun

—Vivian Ketchum


Viviane Ketchum is a member of the Wauzhushk Onigum First Nation and lives in Winnipeg.

This story first appeared in the October / November 2021 issue of Broadview under the title “Survivors’ Journey”.

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